Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: It's about rural people

by Kanayo F. Nwanze | IFAD
Friday, 18 September 2015 09:30 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Poor and hungry people living in rural areas are essential to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems

In a few days, world leaders will meet at United Nations headquarters in New York to adopt a new global plan of action for ending poverty and hunger, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The stakes have never been higher. Despite development gains in recent years, around 800 million people still go to bed hungry every night. A billion people survive on less than $1.25 a day, and 70 percent of them live in rural areas and mainly depend on agriculture.

But people living in the rural world have been out of sight for too long. That has to change. A lot of things have to change.

Hunger and poverty aren’t the only challenges we have to take on. Climate change continues to wreak havoc on the world's most vulnerable. Between 2008 and 2012, 144 million people were displaced from their homes by natural disasters, a number predicted to rise as the planet warms, bringing more extreme weather and rising seas.

Natural resources are coming under increasing pressure and competition. And water – which we all need to survive, including to grow our food – has become increasingly scarce. One billion people lack access to safe water, and even more lack basic sanitation.

These and other global challenges can only be met through a shared global commitment. The 17 new SDGs offer the promise that we can do what has never been done before: ensure a decent life for every person on this planet.

And that is the most important point – it’s about the people.

The SDGs are a comprehensive set of targets to achieve inclusive growth, gender equality, health, education, climate resilience and decent employment in a generation. But in the end, it comes down to people, who are not only the “beneficiaries” of development but the ones who make it happen.

Consider that small farmers are responsible for up to four-fifths of food production and are the largest private investors in agriculture in developing countries. Growth in agriculture leads to better food security, creates wealth and can drive national development.

The U.N. organisation I head, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), works with governments, but it invests in people.

The key to a sustainable future free of poverty and hunger is people. The poor and hungry people who live in rural areas and are dependent on agriculture are also essential to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Smallholder farmers and rural people are ready to produce more food, create jobs and protect the planet.

All they need are the opportunities and tools to do so. For development is not just about aid. It is about investment in people.

It's about Ana Sofía from El Salvador.

Ana Sofía went from living in poverty as a labourer with her husband and two children to tripling her income by cultivating her vegetable farm and joining a farm collective that sells to one of the biggest Salvadoran supermarket chains.

It's about Wafaa from Egypt.

Wafaa moved with her husband and children from the city to the arid countryside of West Noubaria to plant a fruit orchard. Through investment in water irrigation and training, she is now able to send her children to school with the profit she earns producing fruit for her community.

These rural farmers and the many that I have met are far from passive recipients of aid. They are hardworking entrepreneurs ready to improve their lives, communities and countries – while passing on a better world to their children. The SDGs are their goals too.

Kanayo F. Nwanze is President of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which is highlighting rural people's stories in the lead up to the UN Sustainable Development Summit on Sept. 25. To join the digital campaign and help amplify the voices of rural people, go to www.ifad.org/itsaboutpeople / #itsaboutpeople