By Megan Chivers, Erica Calder, and Christine Tan
On the 9th day of our field course on International Food Policy, we visited the International Fund of Agricultural Development (IFAD) – a UN agency. We had the opportunity to listen and converse with various speakers within the organization, which enabled us to gain a better understanding of what IFAD is, their role in agriculture, and a variety of underlying issues that are being addressed on a global scale.
The second speaker outlined the recent developments in global nutrition policy, highlighting the importance of nutrition to sustainable development. For example, concerning education, nutritional deficiency in children leads to stunting that will impair cognitive development. And concerning gender, insufficient nutrition for women impairs pregnancy and lactation with effects spanning the household to population level. In fact, the return on investment for scaling up nutrition is estimated to be 16:1 (2015 Global Nutrition Report: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/raf/uploads/files/129654.pdf). IFAD’s main role in mainstreaming nutrition is to provide expertise and to influence on the development of project parameters towards promoting nutrition sensitivity. These include topics such as nutrition sensitive agriculture – which is arguably the greatest potential to address food security. The speaker also relayed an interesting trend, whereby obesity coupled with micronutrient deficiency (conventionally an urban problem) is increasingly becoming a rural problem. She explained that this is occurring because there is a growing availability of processed and packaged foods in rural areas combined with a decline in the amount of time rural families have to prepare meals.
The third presentation was from a specialist in human resources, who told us about different opportunities to get involved in the organization. This allowed us to learn about the various positions that may be available and the requirements for them. IFAD also provides both training and on the ground experience to develop new skills for its employees, facilitating the opportunity for continuous learning. The speaker emphasized that this agency is unique in specializing on rural poverty, with a mandate to work on the ground, with local decentralized government, farmers, partnerships, etc.
The fourth presentation focused on the impacts of climate change on agriculture. The speaker began with a short overview of the era of the Anthropocene and the ‘hockey stick’ graph. The impacts of climate change are evident around the world, as seasonal events/weather become less predictable over time, which means that this generation of farmers is dealing with unprecedented events that cannot rely on the experience of their forebearers as conventionally practiced. This can affect agricultural production and crop health/yields (due to drought, floods, etc.), which the speaker emphasized reinforces existing inequalities in the global south (the areas most affected by rising temperature).
The presentation also touched upon how agriculture can be a huge contributor to climate change and global warming, as many farms do not participate in sustainable or green farming methods, or sustainable management of landscapes and natural resources. Not only can this affect agriculture, but it has already been evident that it has led to an increase in certain diseases and occurrence in new regions (lacking the technological/social capacity to mitigate).
Issues related to resource management affected by climate change have also created conflict and competition among countries. The speaker emphasized that it can be difficult to integrate climate change as a priority in agricultural investment programs, because the conventional focus has been on intensification and maximizing return on investment out of the land (which in itself contributes to climate change). As well donor countries themselves are reluctant to discuss climate change in relation to agriculture, as they each have signature value chains with large environmental impacts.
In the face of these challenges, IFAD strategies include: (1) better analysis and mapping of what climate change means to their investment projects (i.e. risk informed planning); (2) introducing technologies to manage risk; and (3) systematically finding the sustainable natural pathways to scale up/out projects. The main barrier to scaling up/out, in the speaker’s view, is governance capacity (especially where there are conflict and changes in leadership which drive unpredictable changes in project dynamics) and these factors vary from region to region. For this reason, it is important to be open to alternative unique pathways with local communities, leaders, and lenders.
Lastly, we heard about the finances behind IFAD. This gave us an idea of how decisions are made on whether a project should receive a loan or a grant, the full cycle of how financial help will be provided, and the monitoring and technical assistance that is offered to ensure that the goals are met. We learned about the way in which negotiations occur when a country is not able to pay back its loan and how IFAD can assist in these situations (with its ‘debt sustainability framework’). We also learned about the mechanisms that exist to prevent overt influence of OECD countries with large contributions on certain projects (e.g. the ‘performance based accreditation system’).