Leaders urged to remember the world’s poorest at World Economic Forum

As an unprecedented number of government and business leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos to improve international collaboration in a fragmented world, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development issued an urgent call to remember the world’s poorest and most marginalized people.

“International collaboration and economic development will only be successful if it takes into account the needs and realities of the millions of rural people who are besieged with hunger, poverty and the shocks of climate change,” said IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo prior to joining the high-level discussions in Switzerland. “Their reality has to be taken into account as leaders work to address the multitude of economic challenges on the global agenda.”

As an example, Houngbo pointed out that the past years, which were recently reported amongst the hottest on record, saw the number of hungry rise due to climate change and conflict.

“The fact that 815 million people go hungry today is not about global production levels, but rather a matter of poverty and inequality, of conflict and the exclusion of small-scale producers from larger food systems,” Houngbo added. “Many of world’s poor live in rural areas and most of them are engaged in small-scale farming. As drivers of economic growth, food security and environmental preservation, they have the potential to transform the future. But they cannot do it alone.”

Poverty and hunger remain predominantly rural issues. An estimated 3.1 billion people live in rural areas of developing countries. They account for about 40 percent of the world’s population but they represent more than 75 percent of the world’s poorest and hungriest. Most depend on smallholder agriculture for their lives and livelihoods.

Each year WEF brings together leaders from government, the private sector, policymakers and representatives from academia and the media to discuss critical global challenges and the potential way forward.

Houngbo will participate in several events including the Forum’s cornerstone event ‘Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World’ and WEF’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative where he will highlight the need to partner around agricultural innovations to ensure that new technologies do not inadvertently result in the economic, social and political exclusion of smallholders and other vulnerable groups.

“Shared growth can happen when we identify key innovations that can be locally adapted and that respond to the unique constraints faced by rural people,” Houngbo said. “Rural communities must be able to utilize science and technology that build on local knowledge to ensure the development of socially useful products and processes at affordable prices.”