#IFADgc – Grounds for optimism: Governing Council spotlights benefits of investing in rural people

ROME, Italy – Ugandan entrepreneur Andrew Rugasira told a story yesterday that spoke volumes about the importance of investing in rural people as a solution to endemic poverty and hunger. “It’s not charity,” he said. “It’s a business proposition.”

Rugasira, CEO of the Good African Coffee company, was speaking at a panel discussion on private-sector investment in smallholder agriculture. The panel was part of the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s 2014 Governing Council session, a two-day gathering of high-level representatives from IFAD’s member countries.

As the panel’s moderator pointed out, Good African Coffee is the first African packaging and roasting enterprise to export coffee directly to markets in the United Kingdom. And as Rugasira recalled, getting to that point has been a rewarding journey – but not an easy one. What’s more, it is a journey that corresponds with many of the key points covered at this year’s Governing Council, which focused on investing in smallholder family farmers as a vehicle for sustainable rural development.

Transforming rural communities
The journey began a decade ago, when Rugasira and a small team of colleagues travelled to the mountains of western Uganda in search of small-scale growers to supply them with high-quality coffee beans. At first, the team aroused little interest among farmers in the region. “We were meeting with grandmothers and their grandchildren” rather than working farmers, Rugasira said.

Andrew Rugasira, CEO of Good African Coffee, at Governing Council panel
on private-sector investment. ©IFAD
Eventually, Rugasira met the widely respected headmaster of a local school and made his case for the nascent Good African Coffee brand. It was time, he asserted, for Africans to process and market their own products globally and use trade, not aid, as a model for development. The headmaster was convinced, and he spread the word.

At the next meeting called by Rugasira and his team, 300 men and women – all smallholder farmers – turned out. The people at that meeting were among the first to join a network that has since grown to include some 14,000 Ugandan smallholders. Members of the network supply Arabica beans to Good African Coffee’s processing facility in Kampala. Besides providing its suppliers with training in good farming practices, the company has developed 17 savings and credit cooperatives in coffee-growing areas. As a result, noted Rugasira, “we’ve seen the farmers transform their communities.”

‘A dignified occupation’
For IFAD, the story of the coffee growers in Uganda is further evidence that investing in rural people brings returns that transcend mere economics. Indeed, IFAD is engaged in similar efforts around the world. By providing loans and grants to train and build the capacity of small-scale producers – and to enhance their access to credit and markets – these initiatives generate lasting, positive change for some of the world’s poorest people.

IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze speaks at the 2014 Governing Council
meeting. ©IFAD/Flavio Ianniello
“We invest in rural people because we believe that they are part of the solution to the world’s challenges,” said IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze, speaking at the Governing Council. “We believe it because we have seen it, over and over, year after year, in the countries with whom we work and in the projects we support. Smallholder family agriculture is a business. And it can be a high-yielding, efficient and lucrative business, a dignified occupation that produces food, creates jobs, sustains families and puts countries on the road to stable, inclusive development.”

It’s hard to argue with such aspirations. The test for IFAD will come in the years ahead, as it invests in new development projects and works to foster constructive policy dialogues with governments and other partners – all in the name of unlocking the vast potential of rural women, men and children.

IFAD has launched a new animated video about the power of investing in rural people. Watch it here.