Against the backdrop of escalating global instability, government and development leaders today made an urgent call for greater investment in rural development to address hunger and poverty caused by conflict and climate change.
“We all agree on the severity of the situation and that there is no time to lose. We need to scale up our actions and leverage our resources in order to eliminate poverty and hunger,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), at the final day of the Fund’s 43rd Governing Council meeting.
The incidents of armed conflict in Africa alone increased by 36 per cent between 2018 to 2019, contributing to an increase in hunger and poverty.
“While humanitarian responses are well suited to address the symptoms of conflicts or natural disasters, it is rural development that is devised to address long-term issues and is better suited to build resilience, and foster peace and stability,” said Donal Brown, IFAD Associate Vice-President.
There is evidence that well-targeted rural development interventions can accelerate recovery from the devastating effects of conflicts and yield solid peace dividends.
“IFAD was the first multilateral institution that came to Rwanda after the genocide, when nobody else wanted to be there,” said Agnes Matilda Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and recently named Special Envoy of the Food Systems Summit 2021.
She added that IFAD was among the first “to invest in capacity for the government, so that it could strengthen its agricultural sector.” Rwanda has achieved extraordinary results since its 1994 genocide. Thanks to strong economic growth, poverty and hunger have dramatically declined.
Dominik Ziller, Director-General International Development Policy, German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, said that development also can play a role in preventing conflict.
“If people don’t have opportunities in their countries there is a risk that criminality rises, terrorism increases and the warlords will find more supporters.” In short, he added, “there is a risk of destabilization and more fragile states.”
Said Hussein Iid, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation of the Federal Republic of Somalia, said that his government is focusing on income-generating opportunities for young people “to prevent youth going into terrorism, piracy or going overseas.”
“There can be no development without lasting peace,” said Josefa Sacko, Ambassador and Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, speaking on behalf of the African Union Commission.
“Conflict stops agricultural production and stops millions of people lifting themselves out of poverty,” she said. This is compounded by natural disasters, like the current scourge of locusts destroying crops in East Africa and a changing climate that “threatens African food systems and is the driving force behind migration and conflict.”
Climate change could push more than 100 million people into poverty by 2030, with half of this poverty increase due to climate effects on agriculture. And it is exacerbating existing conflicts and has the potential to cause new conflicts around the world as resources become more limited. In 2018, disasters displaced 17.2 million people from their homes, 90 per cent fled weather and climate-related hazards.
“We know that our planet, this global house of ours, is on fire,” said Esther Penunia, Secretary General Asian Farmers’ Association. “And the climate crisis is mostly affecting us. It's our lands that get flooded; our houses and properties swept away; our rivers go dry.”
She said the world needs to wake up to the fact that small-scale farmers are part of the solution. In 2013, when the deadly typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, a group of farmers organized themselves to implement a diversified organic farming system, and provided food to the survivors as early as two weeks after the typhoon.
Climate emergencies also disproportionally affect disabled people because of their inherent vulnerabilities, and people with disabilities are among the most marginalized and at-risk population in any crisis-affected community. An estimated 9.7 million people with disabilities are forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution.
Yetnebersh Nigussie, an Ethiopian disability rights activist, said this needs a specific focus, with development projects using improved data collection on the location and needs of people with disabilities. “We need to make sure that ‘leave no one behind’ goes beyond being a slogan,” she said.