IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo being interviewed by IDN-INPS Southern Africa correspondent Jeffrey Moyo in Harare, Zimbabwe, on December 3, 2018. - Photo: 2018

UN Specialised Agency IFAD Joins 79-nation ACP to Rescue African Agriculture

IDN interviews IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo

By Jeffrey Moyo

HARARE (IDN) – Smallholder rural farmers in Zimbabwe are set to benefit from international funding intended to improve access to inputs, irrigation and the adoption of smart farming practices in the face of predicted El Nino-induced drought.

On the first visit to Zimbabwe of a president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) at the beginning of December, it was made known that the Rome-based specialised agency of the United Nations is making 51 million dollars available for development of the agricultural sector in remote areas of the country.

According to IFAD, the immediate aim is to support the revitalisation of over 6000 hectares in 152 existing smallholder irrigation schemes in various parts of the country.

Over the past 35 years, IFAD has financed six rural development programmes and projects in Zimbabwe at a total cost of almost 267 million dollars.

Speaking with IDN, IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo – who served as Prime Minister of Togo between 2008 and 2012 – acknowledged that it was the first time that the head of IFAD had visited Zimbabwe and said: “It’s important that we are attached to our member states; it’s important that from time to time we visit; we really have to dialogue with our member states, the government, civil society and make sure our interventions are better targeted. You cannot just sit in Rome and decide what is good for Zimbabwe.”

Commenting on the reason for his visit, Houngbo told IDN: “We are back to re-engage the government of Zimbabwe considering that the country is in a transition; we have been discussing possible areas of cooperation with the government of Zimbabwe. Right now we have been working on small-scale irrigation.

“In fact, we have our programming cycle which runs every three years and to do that we rely obviously on what we call the COSOP – which is our Country Strategic Opportunities Programme.”

IFAD Country Strategic Opportunities Programmes are designed to help poor smallholders in remote areas make the best use of natural resources to improve food production and food security. Agriculture is the largest sector in the East and Southern Africa region, employing 65 percent of the labour force and accounting for over 30 percent of the region’s GDP.

Alongside IFAD’s funding for rural agriculture in Zimbabwe, the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States is also supporting various initiatives across Africa in the field of sustainable agriculture with a view to reducing poverty across the continent, thereby increasing food security and protecting natural resources. IFAD is also working closely with ACP on the latter’s initiatives, particularly in Africa.

“As an institution, we do work directly with countries that are members of the ACP,” the IFAD President told IDN. “One thing we share is the importance of investing in blue economies; we also cooperate with ACP countries in terms of addressing fragility, climate change – a lot of the countries are much more exposed. The objective of IFAD is really to focus on the poorest countries. ACP member states are essentially our areas of intervention.”

Small holder farmers with IFAD chief at Nyaitenga irrigation scheme in Zimbabwe’s Mutoko district supported by IFAD. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo, IDN-INPS

Despite Zimbabwe’s controversial land reform programme which started about two decades ago, Houngbo said: “I see potential and opportunity in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector; I am so convinced that the agricultural sector has so much potential to push up Zimbabwe’s economy, to propel both the economic and social side of Zimbabwe towards one day becoming a middle income economy. The agricultural sector could be a propeller for economic growth in Zimbabwe.”

Meanwhile, organisations such as IFAD and ACP are stepping in to aid the agricultural sector in Africa at a time the continent faces low productivity and heavy dependence on rain-fed agriculture amid food insecurity and malnutrition which are now common in rural areas, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Just like IFAD, ACP is also launching programmes to address the specific needs of smallholder farmers and rural communities across Africa and stimulate knowledge-sharing to build capacity for the development of viable agricultural systems in regions with limited agricultural land and growing populations in often isolated rural communities.

Thanks to the initiatives of organisations such as IFAD, African ministers like Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister Perence Shiri have not hidden their excitement at the support coming their way.

“We welcome the huge assistance we have been receiving from IFAD since 1993 and I am glad to inform you that we propose that areas of capacity building and creating enterprises which will curb rural to urban migration are of paramount importance if aid is to be availed,” Shiri said in an interview with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

“We have embarked on empowering women and youth with goats, sheep and poultry projects which we also think require fund so that people in rural areas will have sustainable wealth.”

Elsewhere in Africa, IFAD loans are backing the commercialisation of smallholder agriculture in Zambia, in particular by enhancing crop and livestock productivity (including through the reduction of livestock disease), and are also helping to create links between small-scale farmers and suppliers and market intermediaries, as well as increasing access to rural financial services by small-scale farmers.

In June 2018, a new financial agreement worth 57.7 million dollars was signed between IFAD and Malawi to help more than 437,000 rural households improve their access to financial services nationwide under the Financial Access for Rural Markets, Smallholders and Enterprise Programme (FARMSE).

The intervention came as Malawi, like several other African nations, faces major challenges including drought, food insecurity and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with the impoverished country’s poverty rate standing at 50.7 percent of the population of 19.4 million people, and 30 percent of the people living in extreme poverty. [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 December 2018]

Top photo (right to left): IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo being interviewed by IDN-INPS Southern Africa correspondent Jeffrey Moyo in Harare, Zimbabwe, on December 3, 2018.

This report is part of a joint project of the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and IDN, flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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