Based in São Paulo, 2017 Youth Ag-Summit delegate Paulo Palma Beraldo is a journalist with newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo and the editor of De Olho No Campo blog, where he writes about agribusiness in Brazil. Here, he shares what he learned covering his first UN conference at the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome.
The role of youth in agriculture, the risks of climate change, the challenges of food security, and the fight against rural poverty around the globe. These were just some of the subjects I and thirteen other journalists discussed in Rome in early February, when we attended a conference organized by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN agency dedicated to eradicating poverty and hunger in rural areas.
There, we learned that 2017 was a year of multiple conflicts, humanitarian crises, climate catastrophes and rising hunger, forcing more people than ever to leave their countries. The number of international migrants worldwide reached nearly 260 million people by December – a number which, if it were a nation, it would be the fifth most populous country in the world.
Chosen from 300 journalists as part of a training organized by Thomson Reuters Foundation and funded by the IFAD, our group was made up of 14 people, each from a developing country: from Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Hungary, Indonesia, Vietnam, Uganda, Tanzania, Togo, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and India. During the four days, our group attended the Governing Council of the agency and interviewed IFAD experts and high-profile delegates from all over the world. In discussions both in the sessions and between ourselves, it became clear that investing in rural areas is crucial to world peace, since food shortages can worsen conflicts and increase migration.
To avoid this, the UN agency aims to increase access to efficient technologies, new production techniques and ways of resisting climate change. “Fragility produces hunger, poverty and migration, which create conflict and instability,” said Gilbert Houngbo, President of IFAD.
Today, 80% of those living in poverty are located in rural areas, amounting to an estimated 500 million people. The focus of IFAD’s investment in the coming years will be on projects that improve the quality of life of young people, who often abandon rural areas in search of better opportunities in the cities. Houngbo also said that IFAD will strengthen its actions to promote the empowerment of women and improve gender equality and job opportunities in agriculture: “We want to increase our role as a catalyst for development to have more resources available to the transformation of rural areas.”
According to Houngbo, all countries must collaborate in the fight against rural poverty. In this way, it will be possible to create opportunities for those living in the countryside, and to provide food for a planet where over 800 million people are food insecure – a number which increased in 2016 after thirteen years of decline.
IFAD was founded in 1978 and has been working in my country, Brazil, since 1980. It has already financed US$864 million in projects in the Northeast region, where most of those affected by poverty are located. With nine states, the region is twice the size of a country like France and is home to 53 million people. It's crucial to help small farmers in Brazil because they own 84% of rural properties in the country. However, it was highlighted that Brazil has good examples of public policies aimed at reducing rural poverty. For instance, Brazil’s National School Nutrition Program (Programa Nacional de Alimentação Escolar) establishes that 30% of the food served in public schools is derived from smallholder farmers, promoting the consumption of health food at the same time as guaranteeing a steady market for these farmers.
During the four days in Rome, we had the chance to see how these problems cross borders, and how we can do our job better by looking at them from a new perspective. It was a really mind-opening experience for me, because I am sure that no matter how different the cultural and historic characteristics of our countries are, we still have much in common and we can all learn from each other. What’s also very clear is that we need to “tell another story of agriculture” – the story of those who are getting on well in farming. Rather than just focusing on negative realities or facts, we need to show that all over the world, agriculture is a vibrant sector where young people will really have the chance to make their mark.