03 March 2017 (IPS) : – Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, former Prime Minister of Togo, has been appointed as the sixth President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialised UN agency and international financial institution that invests in eradicating rural poverty in developing countries around the world.
“I have come from the rural world. I have first-hand knowledge of the harshness of this kind of life,” said Houngbo, who was appointed by IFAD’s member states at the organisation’s annual Governing Council meeting in Rome.
Houngbo takes up the helm at a time when changing government priorities and the more immediate needs of humanitarian crises – like natural disasters, conflict and refugees – threaten to divert funding away from long-term development.
With growing global demand for food, increased migration to cities and the impact of climate change, investments in agriculture and rural development will be essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of ending poverty and hunger.
“We have to keep our ambition and at the same time be realistic and pragmatic,” he said. “We have to demonstrate that every dollar invested will have the highest value for money.”
Houngbo has more than 30 years of experience in political affairs, international development, diplomacy and financial management.
Since 2013 he has served as Deputy Director General of the International Labour Organisation. Prior to that, he was Assistant Secretary General, Africa Regional Director and Chief of Staff at the United Nations Development Programme.
As someone who was born and raised in rural Togo, Houngbo believes that the inequality in today’s world should never be accepted, and that IFAD has a crucial role to play in bringing opportunities to the poor and excluded.
“The privilege of attaining high-quality education helped me develop a strong sense of responsibility towards improving the condition of those who have not had similar opportunities,” he wrote in answer to questions during the nomination process.
“I believe that through a dynamic leadership of IFAD, I can contribute to visible change in the hardship-laden lives of the world’s rural poor.”
Togo covers 57,000 square kilometres, making it one of the smallest countries in Africa. With a population of around 8 million inhabitants, Subsistence agriculture is the main economic activity in Togo; the majority of the population depends on it. Food and cash crop production employs the majority of the labour force and contributes about 42 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP).
Coffee and cocoa are traditionally the major cash crops for export, but cotton cultivation increased rapidly in the 1990s, with 173,000 metric tons produced in 1999.
After a disastrous harvest in 2001 (113,000 metric tons), production rebounded to 168,000 metric tons in 2002.
Despite insufficient rainfall in some areas, the Togolese Government has achieved its goal of self-sufficiency in food crops — maize, cassava, yams, sorghum, pearl millet, and groundnut.
Small and medium-sized farms produce most of the food crop; the average farm size is one to three hectares.
In the industrial sector, phosphates are Togo’s most important commodity, and the country has an estimated 60 million metric tons of phosphate reserves.
During the 1990s, Togo suffered through a socio-political crisis, an economic regression and a decrease in public and international aid. As a result, an estimated 62 per cent of the population currently lives below the poverty line.
The country’s challenge now is to create the conditions for economic growth – and the Government of Togo believes that the best way to achieve lasting growth is through increased production and productivity in the agriculture sector.
Houngbo was among eight candidates, including three women, vying for the organisation’s top leadership position. He succeeds Kanayo F. Nwanze, who was President for two terms beginning in April 2009. Houngbo will take office on 1 April 2017.
IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience, though grants and long-term, law-interest credits.
Since 1978, this UN body — also known as the “bank of the poor” — has provided 18.5 billion dollars in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 464 million people.