World leaders yesterday (16 February) called for urgent and innovative investments to help rural communities in the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change. Speaking at the opening of the annual Governing Council meeting attended by 177 Member States of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), leaders specifically highlighted the vulnerability of small-scale farmers to severe weather events, like the storms that devastated Madagascar in recent weeks killing at least 121 people and destroying more than 176,000 hectares of land.
“This heavy toll left by these cyclones causes difficulties for the farmers but also for the country,” said Andry Rajoelina, President of Madagascar. He called on other African leaders to develop a continental plan for agricultural development and to address the risks of climate change. “Let us pool our strengths, our potential and our know-how so that our countries reach food self-sufficiency and that our young people have jobs,” he said.
In his opening statement, IFAD’s President, Gilbert F. Houngbo, stressed that small-scale producers are being hit hard by a crisis they did not create and yet currently receive only 1.7% of climate finance. At the heart of the issue is inequity.
“The pandemic and climate change have starkly exposed the vulnerability of small-scale producers and the inequity that the people who produce a third of the world’s food receive only about six cents for every dollar of product they generate,” he said. “There is no sustainability or resilience without greater equity.”
Speaking from an island nation that has been hit by 14 cyclones since 2016, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Acting Prime Minister of Fiji, also stressed the vulnerability of rural farmers to extreme weather. “We often say that our nations are at the front line of climate change. Our rural communities are the front line of the front line,” he said. “It is clear that eradicating rural poverty demands a radically new approach to building rural resilience. And as some of the most vulnerable nations in the world, small states require special focus, fast access to resources, and tailored solutions.”
Many of those solutions require access to finance, according to H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA). “Agriculture employs two thirds of people across sub-Saharan Africa, and accounts for almost a third of GDP. Yet rural small-scale producers are systematically underfunded – and have been even more so since the pandemic,” she said. “There is an opportunity here for responsible private sector innovators to step in and help fill the global financing gap of US$170 billion, to help small-scale producers gain access to credit and markets.”
Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia, also stressed the importance of “making good use of the opportunities offered by innovation and financing to achieve an inclusive and climate-resilient recovery in which small producers have, or will have, a leading role.”
In response to the threat climate change poses to rural people, Daniele Franco, Minister for Economy and Finance of Italy, said that this year Italy will increase its pledge to international climate finance by three times, reaching an annual level of about $1.5 billion per year until 2026. “Climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss represent an immediate threat for natural resources, as well as for the lives and livelihoods of rural people,” he said.
In 2020, global hunger levels increased in large part due to climate change, poverty and the impacts of COVID-19. One in 10 people in the world are currently hungry.
Over the next 3 years, IFAD will dedicate at least 40 percent of its core resources to climate finance. It is currently mobilising $500 million for its climate fund ASAP+ which aims to be the largest fund dedicated to channelling climate finance to small-scale producers.