The incoming president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) says he cannot rest while young rural people face the same challenges he encountered 40 to 50 years ago.
Gilbert F. Houngbo, the former Togolese prime minister whose term at IFAD begins this month, is well-placed to understand the trials facing rural people in Africa. He was born and raised on a small family farm in rural Togo.
“When I was a youngster of eight years old, I had to walk 4km every morning to go and get water for the house,” he said. “A few years later I had to walk 20km every day to get to high school.”
“It is unacceptable that kids today have to go through the same thing 40 to 50 years later,” said the incoming president of IFAD, the specialised United Nations agency and international financial institution that invests in eradicating rural poverty and hunger in developing countries.
The agency noted that Houngbo, who has extensive experience in political affairs, international development and financial management, was taking up the helm at a crucial time.
“Changing government priorities and numerous global emergencies, such as the 20 million people currently facing starvation in the Horn of Africa, threaten to divert funding away from long-term development,” IFAD said in a statement.
The risk, according to Houngbo, was that without adequate investment in the world’s most vulnerable communities there would be increased instability and conflict, and people would find it harder to bounce back from shocks, giving them more reasons to flee rural areas.
His own experiences make him critically aware of the challenges rural families face and how the lack of infrastructure and opportunities can drive young people to leave their homes in search of a better life. He said investing in rural youth was essential to stem the global migration crisis.
“I don’t want people to see life in rural areas only as a hardship and that you live there by necessity,” he said. “We need to work on those hardships so that young people can be happy in a rural setting, instead of looking to go to the capital or move outside their country.”
“Food security and nutrition are essential, but we have to go beyond that and really aim at the fight against poverty and look at agriculture as a decent income-generating activity.”
Houngbo said his priority was to ensure that IFAD continued to have the resources to invest in rural areas so that they became places of prosperity and hope, where people could build decent lives.
He said his goal was to make sure that IFAD’s impact on poverty alleviation through agriculture and nutrition was decisively increased during his term as president.
“The fact that IFAD is small and agile is a strength. We need to maximise how to use that strength so we can really deliver on the ground. We need to make our case to our major resource providers that we can do more – not by saying it, but by doing it.”
Prior to his appointment as IFAD president, Houngbo was deputy director-general of the International Labour Organisation, where he led field operations in more than 100 countries and managed its bilateral and multilateral partnerships.
He has also held a number of leadership positions at the UN Development Programme, including chief of staff and as an assistant secretary-general, where he led poverty alleviation programmes in 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
– African News Agency (ANA)