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The 41st Governing Council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), concluded today with a call from leaders to build stronger institutions and to improve capacity in rural areas to overcome fragility.

A growing number of people around the world, approximately 1.6 billion, are living in fragile situations. During the two-day annual event, IFAD Member State representatives discussed how rural areas are increasingly affected and shaped by global issues such as climate change, conflict, weak institutions, emerging technologies and limited natural resources.

For example, kicking off the final day of the meeting, Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President of Nigeria, talked about the growing threat posed by climate change.

“For us in Africa climate change is no longer an abstract concept, it is our reality,” he said. As an example, he pointed to the current crisis in Cape Town, South Africa where the water supply in a city of about four million people is predicted to run dry by June.  “If drought can affect such a city, one can only imagine the impact of drought on the rural areas. Frequent and extreme weather events continue to have negative effects on rural livelihoods, especially in Africa where agriculture is the mainstay of rural economies.”

Obasanjo said that it is imperative that there is more investment in building the capacities of institutions – especially in rural areas – from all stakeholders.  “We cannot be talking about moving from fragility to resilience if we have fragile institutions to do the work,” he added.

In addition, Obasanjo, who led Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, said that youth must remain at the core of any development agenda.  “If you ask me what my greatest hope is for Africa, it is the youth.”

Youth as a catalyst for change, and building their resilience against fragility, was predominant in deliberations during the Governing Council. IFAD President, Gilbert F. Houngbo, said during his press conference with international media that at “IFAD we have seen the transformation that can take place in rural areas of developing countries when young people have access to land, training, markets, technology and finance.”

There are 1.2 billion young people aged 15-24 in the world today – the largest population of youth the world has ever seen. It is estimated that more than 600 million youth are living in fragile situations.Young people are two to three times more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, with more than 200 million youth estimated to be working poor, earning less than $2 per day.

During the afternoon, an interactive panel of youth representatives from Myanmar, Colombia and Kenya discussed how investing in rural youth – particularly in fragile contexts – is a crucial factor required for delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Rita Kimani, Chief Executive Officer of FarmDrive, which provides loans for young farmers in Kenya, said that while ensuring innovations is important to agricultural output, youth also need access to capital.

“There are a lot of agricultural technologies out there, but for the youth to use or apply these they need access to finance, especially when dealing with climate change,” she said. For example, she said that young farmers who have taken loans from FarmDrive for irrigation systems have seen significant gains – some earning up to five times more than before.

Another panellist, Sebastián Pedraza from the National Rural Youth Network in Colombia, said that young people must understand the real value of their land and their work as farmers to give them confidence to be effective agents of change. “We need to educate young farmers to understand how important they are to the world,” he said.  “You might need a doctor or lawyer for health or legal advice, but you will always need a farmer.”

Youth also was highlighted during the thought-provoking discussion between IFAD’s governors on multilateralism, which focused on implications for reaching the SDGs.

“If we don’t take the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development seriously, we’re letting down future generations,” said David Nabarro, Director of 4SD – Skills, Systems and Synergies for Sustainable Development and former Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General.

In addition, panellists remarked that in a changing global environment, multilateralism must change. In particular, many speakers underscored that there has to be better coordination between the global, national and local levels, to which Houngbo said IFAD is already responding.

“The development landscape is changing, and IFAD is proactively changing to meet the new needs and demands,” Houngbo said. “We are determined to do our part in supporting countries to deliver on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, and I know that with the full support and participation of all our Member States, we will succeed in doing more and doing it better.”

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