At IFAD's Governing Council, signs that rural transformation is under way

Written by Adam Vincent

This week, delegates from IFAD's Member States joined IFAD staff and distinguished keynote speakers from across the world for the 38th session of the Governing Council, IFAD's main decision-making body. The theme for this year's Council was rural transformation, with a focus on sustainable development for the long-term health and security of rural communities.

Padoan: Europe ready to mobilise
After the Governing Council session was declared open, His Excellency Pier Carlo Padoan, Minister for Economy and Finance of the Italian Republic, took the floor to share the roles that both Italy and Europe as a whole can play, along with IFAD, in transforming rural areas. Padoan cited 2015's European Year for Development as evidence for a growing sense of European solidarity and desire to help others in developing nations.

His Excellency Pier Carlo Padoan, Minister for Economy and Finance
of the Italian Republic. ©IFAD/Giorgio Cosulich de Pecine
As 2015 is also the year of Expo Milano 2015 – the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy will host from 1 May to 31 October – Padoan took a moment to "reflect upon the contradictions of our world." We have the technology to balance food security and market stability, but poverty perseveres, he said. He recommended that Italy and other developed countries mobilise private resources to complement public investment in areas of rural poverty.

Mahama: Prioritise rural transformation
Next, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, President of the Republic of Ghana, affirmed the importance of investing in rural areas and empowering rural people. "Neglecting transformation of rural areas can be more expensive than transforming them," he warned, citing the poor health-care infrastructure that facilitated the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. Mahama argued that improving social services in rural areas to match those offered in urban areas would even help solve urban poverty. Given greater opportunities to make a living in the countryside, fewer residents would leave for the city, he said.

Rural transformation depends on listening to and providing for the needs of smallholder farmers, Mahama continued. As an example, he said that his administration had rejected a sizable programme because it did not sufficiently benefit smallholder farmers. The farmers needed microfinance opportunities, seeds, tractors, reapers, threshers, preservation techniques and access to a market system – not workshops, consultancies and four-wheel drive vehicles. Mahama noted that his administration did not approve the programme until it was amended to better reflect smallholders' needs.

From left: His Majesty Tupou VI, King of Tonga; IFAD President Kanayo F. 
Nwanze; and His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, President of the 
Republic of Ghana. ©IFAD/Flavio Ianniello
Tupou: Uphold IFAD values 
His Majesty Tupou VI, King of Tonga, followed by listing some of the values that guide rural development in Tonga, and IFAD's values in particular. These included climate-smart farming practices, attention to risk and resilience, livelihood diversification, sustainable natural resource management and rural access to finance. According to the King, these themes have helped Tonga begin to achieve rural transformation.

Nwanze: The price of inaction
When IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze took the stage, he echoed Mahama's comments by saying that "we are paying the price of inaction" with the Ebola crisis in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. “Food insecurity and hunger are looming as a second crisis,” he said. “And all because, for 40 years, Ebola was a disease of the forgotten world, the invisible world, the rural world.”

Nwanze warned against continuing to neglect the rural sector. Malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of life has left a generation of children stunted, potentially leading to stunted nations, he said – adding that rural areas are responsible for growing food and contributing clean water and air, which are vital to the success of urban areas. Vibrant rural economies need healthy, enthusiastic young people to succeed, he said, but lack of opportunity drives many rural people to the city. To Nwanze, we don't need bigger cities (and bigger slums) so much as we need rural transformation.

IFAD offers powerful opportunities for countries to achieve this transformation. Internal reorganization and efforts to focus on in-country programmes have allowed IFAD to more effectively effect change. IFAD itself also continues to grow. The Governing Council welcomed the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau and Montenegro into the IFAD family, which now totals 176 Member States. The possibility for rural transformation has never been closer.