Today, IFAD President released The Rural Poverty Report 2011 at Chatham House in London, #rpr2011

Here is our big day. We are launching the Rural Poverty Report 2011. The report is the result of two years of extensive work.

To make sure that nothing would go wrong, I went down early to the plenary hall of Chatham House to get myself organized to find out to the my biggest chagrin that there was no internet access in the plenary hall. PANIC, total PANIC. I pulled out my Blackberry, more PANIC, no signal!!

Deep breath, think and think fast. Rushed upstairs to do as much as I could do  before the meeting started. After putting in place the contingency plan and coming to terms with my constraint, I headed back downstairs.

At 9:33, David Nabarro welcomed the participants and opened the “Food Security 2010 – Making Food Security work: Matching supply to demand.

In introducing Dr Nwanze, IFAD President, to take the floor to deliver the keynote address, he mentioned that “IFAD is now a leader and advocate for food security". Nabarro compliment IFAD taking "actions to ensure that food security will be experienced by everyone and not just a few”.

With that introduction, the President, holding the report in his hand  and later in the session, Edward Heinemann, the Rural Poverty Report, team leader,  proceeded to unveil the findings of the Rural Poverty Report 2011.

"The report is a comprehensive review of rural poverty, which accounts for 70 per cent of the world’s extremely poor people – about 1 billion children, women and men", said Dr Nwanze.

"The report provides an in-depth evaluation of the state of rural poverty and its consequences for people all over the world. It also makes important recommendations on policies and investments that will help rural women and men move out of poverty and, in the process, become part of the solution for the global food security challenges of the next
several decades".

"One of unique characteristics of the Rural Poverty Report 2011 is that it goes beyond cold facts and figures and includes the stories, hopes, challenges and aspirations of poor rural women and men from around the world who are struggling to overcome poverty. Their thoughts and perspectives were influential in the preparation of the report", said Nwanze.

During the meeting both Dr Nwanze and Heinemann reminded the audience that as we embark in the new decade of the 21st century, global poverty still remains a massive and predominantly rural phenomenon - and this is absolutely unacceptable.

The Rural Poverty Report outlines four steps to eliminate hunger and poverty
  • Help rural people better manage the risks they face
  • Sustainably increase agricultural production
  • Facilitate equitable access to new and changing marketplaces by viewing smallholder farmers first and foremost as businesses
  • Encourage the growth of non-farm rural jobs
Managing risk
"Smallholder farmers have always been vulnerable to risk, and now these risks are growing. Today, they face less secure access to land, increasing pressure on common property resources, climate change and food price volatility. We need to find ways of reducing risk and giving poor rural people access to the tools they need to deal with it", explained Nwanze.

The Report argues that for some, this will mean improving their skills, while for others, it will mean access to micro insurance, and for others still it will mean social protection. What is crucial is to create the right environment to make it easier for more rural people to be more entrepreneurial, creating the conditions for a vibrant rural sector which generates locally produced goods and spurs sustainable non-farm employment in services, in agro-processing and in small-scale manufacturing.

Sustainably increase agricultural production
The report makes the case that we need to ensure that the world’s 500 million smallholder farms are able to realise their potential as small-scale businesses and at the same time increase food production but in a sustainable way.

In Africa, for example, only 6 per cent of the land is irrigated. Only one tenth of the average amount of fertilizer is used on farm land. But we also know that 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa. Imagine the potential that this land holds for the approximately 300 million poor people who live in rural Africa. Imagine the potential of the 2 billion people who live or work on small farms the world over.

This means we need to get higher yields from existing land, and we need to do so in an environmentally sustainable way that does not pollute, diminish the land over time or contribute to greenhouse gas emissions - in other words, we must have sustainable intensification.

The report highlights that sustainable farming practices have improved yields by an average of nearly 80 per cent over four years. It argues that what we need is a systemic approach that uses a variety of innovations – derived from the latest scientific discoveries and from local practices and knowledge – to bring agriculture into the forefront of efforts to protect and preserve land, air and water for generations to come.

The report concludes that this means complementing conventional approaches to increasing productivity with a much stronger focus on soil and water management, integrated approaches to soil fertility management and overall farm production systems.

At the same time, the report recognizes that there is no blueprint for sustainable agricultural  intensification. The best practices will be determined by the local context. The challenge is to develop policies and institutions that can make it happen on a massive scale.

Facilitate equitable access to new and changing marketplaces by viewing smallholder farmers first and foremost as businesses
"One of the other challenges highlighted in the report is the lack of access to markets which is one of the determinants of poverty", explains Heinemann".

Smallholder farmers and poor rural people must have opportunities to be entrepreneurs, rather than bystanders. To realize their business potential there should be a concerted effort to reduce risk and transaction costs along value chains, supporting rural producers’ organizations, expanding financial services into rural areas and ensuring that small farmers have access to the infrastructure, the utilities and information. Investing in good governance is another key ingredient".

Encourage the growth of non-farm rural jobs
"There is no question that agriculture is and will continue to be the key economic driver in rural areas. Agricultural success is a route out of poverty for millions", said Nwanze.

"Today, around 80 per cent of rural people are involved in farming to some degree. We must continue to support those who see agricultural production as their main livelihood in every way we can. But we must also recognize that rural economies are becoming more diverse. If we succeed in creating more profitable farms, we will also succeed in creating associated non-farm enterprises. Some people will leave the farm for new jobs with large enterprises in rural areas, while others will choose to become entrepreneurs in non-farming pursuits".

The Rural Poverty Report suggests that in order to meet the growing needs of a hungry world, agriculture must be a viable and rewarding activity for the large number of people who choose it. But increasingly, it will be one of many choices, not the only choice. This is not a threat to agriculture, but rather a chance to develop a more modern, diversified economy.

Call for action
"Our report is not one that should sit on a shelf to collect dust. I hope that we all join hands to implement the four steps outlined above to eliminate poverty and hunger", exclaimed Nwanze.

"The challenge now is for governments to follow through on their promises and for players in all areas of rural development to take action. Developing countries must be the drivers of rural development. Where countries have shown the commitment, development agencies and others should support their efforts".

IFAD is meeting the challenge by working closely with partners to scale up our support to rural development on the ground. We are also championing a new and more dynamic vision of rural development.

Dr Nwanze concluded: "And as we look at today’s rural poverty report, we must also look to the future, and that means focusing on the young people who live and work in rural areas. Give them the skills and confidence they need to run profitable farms or start businesses, and they hold the potential to become the community leaders of tomorrow. Ignore them, and they will have little option but to leave their homes and families to search for work in the cities".

Sir Gordon Conway who took the floor after the President's keynote address complimented and congratulated IFAD for a great multidisciplinary report which is totally grounded in reality and comprehensively reflects the stories, challenges and aspirations of poor rural people!

Others commended IFAD for putting out a strong practical report showing how to unlock the potential smallholder agriculture, for seeing farmers as business people and for depicting "their business" being embedded in social, economic and political relationships and showing how when these relationships do not work that is when food security fails.

Sitting in the room and hearing rural development leaders citing and referring to the report just minutes after it was launched was indeed a gratifying moment. Undoubtedly we'll be hearing more and more people citing and quoting the report. Well done to all those who were involved in this two year effort. Well done to Ed and Bettina.

The panelists echoing the President's  message of hope and call for action urged the participants to read the Rural Poverty Report. Make sure you download the report.

Also, please mark your calendars: on 9 and10 December from 9:00-10:00 and from 14:00-15:00 December, Edward Heinemann and his team will answer your questions and comments on Facebook and Twitter.

Please send us your questions and comments by 16:00GMT 8 December.

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See you on-line.

Listen to Edward Heinemann who shares some of the findings of the Rural Poverty Report 2011