ROME, Oct. 10 (Xinhua) -- With most of the world's hungriest and poorest people in rural areas, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development said the world needed more investments in global food systems, with an eye to making them more "inclusive, sustainable, nutritious, inclusive, and efficient."
Gilbert F. Houngbo, since 2017 president of the United Nations fund best known as IFAD, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview that the only effective strategy for fighting global hunger is to address the problem in rural areas.
"Many people associate poverty and food insecurity with slums and urban areas, but poverty and hunger are actually deepest in rural areas," Houngbo said. "Many of those who are hungry are small-scale farmers and farm workers themselves, whose production and incomes are too low or too unpredictable because they don't have access to the right inputs, or because they are faced with other challenges."
Houngbo called for more support for food producers, particularly small-scale producers, in order to make sure the food they produce can get to markets cheaply while making sure vulnerable populations have access to those markets.
"We have to make sure food supply chains work for all vulnerable people, from small-scale producers to billions of consumers," Houngbo said, noting that IFAD is the only multilateral fund specifically dedicated to fighting poverty and hunger in rural areas.
A former prime minister of the western African nation of Togo, Houngbo pointed out that his home continent has suffered more from poverty and hunger than other parts of the world -- even before the vast impacts of the global coronavirus outbreak.
"There were 688 million people in the world who were hungry last year, before the arrival of COVID-19, an increase of 60 million people compared to five years earlier," he said. "This increase is primarily linked to fragility, climate variability and extremes, and economic slowdowns. The prevalence of hunger in Africa is twice the world average, the highest among all regions of the world."
He said that the pandemic is only making problems in Africa worse. "The socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 restrictions have escalated food insecurity," Houngbo added.
"It's estimated that another 132 million people could suffer from hunger by the end of this year. The pandemic affects rural livelihoods in many ways. Beyond the immediate health emergency, the spread of the disease, and the domestic and global restrictions implemented in response will have longer-term impacts on markets, production, and employment."
Houngbo also spoke about the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), a kind of "blueprint" toward a more sustainable future, including a reduction in poverty and hunger, better education, more gender equality, and better environmental health, all by 2030. They were set in 2015.
"The second Sustainable Development Goal, the 'zero hunger' goal, focuses most directly on food, with the aim to 'end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture,'" he said. "It is also the SDG which is falling furthest behind. Hunger has actually increased since the SDGs were agreed to."
He went on: "We always say the SDGs cannot be taken one-by-one: we need to focus on the full package, and all of the other goals relate directly or indirectly to the problems of food security."
Houngbo said there was much to learn from countries that have been successful in dramatically reducing hunger and poverty within their borders. But he also said that solutions should be "tailored to the circumstances of each country."
Houngbo specifically pointed to the China-IFAD South-South and Triangular Cooperation Facility (SSTC) as an example of this kind of mix. The SSTC facility, established in 2018, aims to foster exchanges and investments between developing countries.
"Many IFAD-supported initiatives seek to introduce successful innovation from other countries and provide opportunities for government officials from different countries to share experiences and learn from each other," he said. "This kind of exchange is at the center of projects like the SSTC." Enditem