Rasit Pertev, a Turkish national, is the Secretary of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), an international financial institution and specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). Before he became the Secretary of IFAD, Pertev had at various times serves as the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of Turkey, Chief Negotiator for UN Peace Talks as well as Assistant secretary-general of the World Federation of Farmers (IFAF) and World Bank. In this interview with AnnualMeetings Daily, Pertev who is vying for the Presidency of IFAD speaks on his vision for the specialized UN agency. Excerpts:
There is so much focus on agriculture across the world. What are the prospects of agro-business, especially in a region like Africa?
In the past, people used to think that small famers were going to disappear and that it was only the large scale farmers that have the future. This is because the kind of technology we had at that time was designed for centralization and so favoured large scale farmers. Then you needed to standardize so that you can produce one type of crop and the ones that were able to do it were the ones that made profits. And over a time, larger-scale farms expanded and small scale or family farms started to shrink and disappear.
But today’s technologies have changed that. We now have technologies that favour decentralization, diversification and small farming system. The types of technologies we have today are actually favourable to small-holders farmers because they are not going to produce one unique product or confined to a centralized system. We are moving into a different type of future than what we saw before.
So, the good news here is that small-holder farmers in Africa have a brighter future and agriculture and agri-business would change the economic landscape. So, it’s time that we focused on harnessing the potential in that sector and build the future on that.
What is IFAD’s vision and strategy for reaching and empowering these small-holders farmers you are talking about?
IFAD has a good track record of reaching the small-holders farmers and accessing those in the most remote areas. The way the institution has done it is by targeting its project well, most of the time, focusing on the poorest ones. Our goal is to take the small-holders farmers out of poverty and all the programmes we have are tailored towards achieving that. Right now, our objective is to get about 80 million people out of poverty over a three year-replenishment cycle and we are poised to actualize that, especially under my presidency and even do better.
What are you going to do differently if you are elected to lead IFAD?
Well, I want to focus on four areas: Strengthening IFAD’s core mandate on small holder farmers, extreme poverty and hunger. I strongly believe that poverty and hunger are two areas that we must focus on. I believe IFAD needs to do more in this regard. Secondly, as world leaders take a very big step towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I will like to achieve a greater impact and enhance results in operations for SDG1 and SDG2. My presidency will focus on obtaining concrete results, working together with other institutions, governments and other stakeholders.
I will also like to focus on fostering effective partnerships and inter-agency cooperation in the new global landscape and leveraging resources. We need to go beyond institutional boundaries to achieve global goals.
I believe in building an open, transparent and inclusive institution. I want to make sure that IFAD is membership driven and that its members feel they fully own the institution and all the stakeholders are effectively engaged. IFAD is widely recognized and appreciated for its works on small holder farmers in developing countries and in addressing hunger and poverty. I will like to build on the institution’s strength and potential as well as take it a couple of steps ahead from what it is now.
How much can the issue of global trade protectionism impact on agriculture, especially the African export share?
The truth is that we are going through a very changing time. There is a very small political will to make the world a better place so that we do not have people in poverty and hunger. We also want a different world where we want to make sure that we maintain our rural population. In the industrialized nations, the rural population is drying out and the decrease in the rural folk is not such a good thing. And one of the policy measures adopted in the past to prevent that is protectionism of the markets.
I think the objective of having rural population in developing countries and at the same time eradicating hunger is almost similar to the objective to maintain rural population in the advanced societies. So, the situation of trying to avoid rural desertification in the developed countries should not be necessarily contradicted or rejected. It’s just that we need to find the right policy and common ground so that we can achieve both because they are equally valuable to the global goal that we are working so hard to actualize. I think we will arrive at the right kind of solution, even if it takes some time.
What role can IFAD play in addressing the challenge of value-addition in the agricultural sector, a factor that has plagued small holder farmers across Africa?
Actually, it is very easy to do because it doesn’t cost so much money. An institution like IFAD is willing to come in and put the right kind of money in the right place. We are looking at providing funds for the right kind of processing equipment that would help small scale farmers and farming communities to add value to their productivity. We believe it’s a win-win-situation for us. Much more can be done in this regard and we are very positive about the future.