Food is one the defining issue of our time yet, as we have seen at the recent COP26 climate conference, the people who produce our food are too often missing from global forums that impact their lives, said Satu Santala, who joins the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) today as its Associate Vice-President of External Relations and Governance.
"Food is one of the defining issues of our time, particularly because of the pressures coming from climate change and loss of biodiversity. Yet the rural people who produce our food are too often side-lined in global development processes," said Santala who was previously the Director-General for Development Policy at Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Rural small-scale farmers produce one third of global food. They are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and erratic weather, yet they receive only 1.7 percent of climate finance. At last month's UN climate conference, COP26, there was only limited participation of rural food producers, and food and farming is absent from the resulting Glasgow Climate Pact.
A recent report released by IFAD predicts that staple crops in eight African countries would decline by up to 80 percent by mid-century if temperatures continue to rise due to climate change. This could have a catastrophic impact on poverty and food availability unless there is an urgent injection of funding to help vulnerable farmers adapt how and what they farm.
"Food links everyone on the planet together. So it is not just about rural people in poor countries, but it is also about how we build food systems that are sustainable for all of us," said Santala.
Santala, a Finnish national, has extensive experience in international relations and development. She has held various positions at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, including as Director-General for Development Policy, Director for the Unit for Development Finance, and at Finland's embassies in New Delhi and Dar es Salaam. She was also Executive Director at the World Bank, where she represented Nordic and Baltic countries.
"Throughout my career, I have focused on marginalised people. That's part of my DNA and I feel that I am a development activist, even though I have been a civil servant all of my life," said Santala.
In her new role at IFAD, Santala is responsible for communications, global engagement, partnerships, and resource mobilization. She also oversees the relations with the Fund's 177 Member States.
"IFAD has a very ambitious vision to double and deepen its impact," said Santala. "In my role, I will do everything possible to further boost IFAD's appeal as a critical partner for investing in rural people, so that IFAD can achieve this ambitious vision on behalf of the people it serves."
IFAD is the only global development organization that works exclusively on eradicating poverty and hunger in rural areas, with a dedicated fund to help small-scale farmers adapt to climate change