Innovative investments for rural transformation

Written by Christopher Neglia
Innovation is needed more than ever to help make marginal environments agriculturally productive, says Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA.
Rome, 18 February – At IFAD’s Governing Council, the role of innovation was discussed in the context of rural transformation during a dynamic panel session.

In the first segment of the session, Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, observed the huge impacts of the Green Revolution on Asia’s agricultural productivity in the 1960s.

This was a high-input agriculture that boosted key commodities such as rice, but also left behind marginal landscapes, upon which the majority of smallholder farmers work.

Today, owing to strong population growth and climate change, Dr. Elouafi suggested that we need to mobilize innovation on a similar scale as the Green Revolution, because the alternative: an additional 1.2 billion food insecure people by 2050, is not a choice at all.

Achieving SDG1 (no poverty) and SDG2 (zero hunger) will foremost require Africa to strengthen agricultural productivity and close its yield gap with the rest of the world. This necessarily calls for more public subsidies in the agricultural sector.

But Elouafi also brought up the need for greater investment in upstream research and development.

By testing crops within local agro ecosystems, smallholder farmers can optimize their production. This type of applied research generally comes with additional time and resource costs, but the commercial potential is huge.

A second panel discussion, facilitated by IFAD Associate Vice President Périn Saint Ange, focused on innovative agricultural solutions to many of the global challenges discussed over the two days. ©IFAD/Giulio Napolitano
In the second segment of the panel, moderator Perin Saint-Ange, Associate Vice-President of IFAD, held a dialogue with Elizabeth Ssendiwala, Gender and Youth Technical Specialist (ESA), Ronald Hartman, Country Director for Indonesia, Glayson Ferrari Dos Santos, El Salvador Portfolio Officer and Jacopo Monzini, Senior Technical Specialist (NEN).

Ssendiwala spoke on the utility of household methodologies as a means of improving intra-household gender relations.

According to Ssendiwala, encouraging women to take up more economic responsibilities in the community can appreciably contribute to development. She also rightly noted the importance of men becoming champions of gender equality.

Ronald Hartman underlined that middle-income countries such as Indonesia should ensure that economic growth is equitable.

As the fiscal position of countries strengthen, IFAD’s role becomes more about facilitating innovation through policy dialogue and piloting new technologies on small farms, thereby contributing to more inclusive growth.

Glayson Ferrari Dos Santos advocated for more democratic participation of young people in economic decision-making. He proposed moving from a project-based approach to an more integrated mode of engagement between political institutions and non-traditional actors in civil society and the private sector.

Finally, Jacopo Monzini provided a review of IFAD’s experiences using GIS and earth observation to get a clearer picture of land use and environmental degradation, scaled down to the project area.

Mapping the spatial data at project design, and going on to collect it during implementation has already led to better beneficiary targeting, and enhanced the capacity of ministries and universities to utilize such data in their own development strategies.