INTERVIEW - Unleash the entrepreneur in every small farmer - new UN agency chief

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 15 February 2017 18:49 GMT

In this file 2011 photo, former Prime Minister of Togo Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo addresses the 66th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, in New York. REUTERS/Chip East

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Gilbert Houngbo, who served as Prime Minister of Togo from 2008 to 2012, was appointed as president of IFAD on Tuesday evening

By Umberto Bacchi

ROME, Feb 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Training young farmers to turn agriculture into a business is key to eradicating poverty and curbing economic migration, the new president of the U.N. agricultural development agency said on Wednesday.

Three quarters of the world's poorest people live in rural areas, predominantly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and many rely on farming to survive, according to the United Nations.

Countries need to provide them with better equipment and infrastructure to achieve an ambitious plan agreed by world leaders to end poverty and hunger by 2030, according to Gilbert Houngbo, the new head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"To unleash the business spirit in smallholder women and men (farmers) is critical," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

Greater government investment needs to go hand in hand with educational schemes and private-sector partnerships aimed at broadening young people's skills and prospects, he said.

He suggested, for example, that training schemes could help tomato growers become producers of tomato sauce.

Although Houngbo has previously held senior roles at big international bodies, he said it was growing up in a small village in a rural area of Togo, one of the world's poorest countries, that best prepared him for the job.

"I know how it feels, not being able to increase the yield, as at the end of the season, when you have your crop, you cannot bring it to the market because you there is no rural road," he said.

Houngbo said that helping young people from villages like his own fulfil their potential at home would make them less inclined to migrate to rich countries.

"I believe that a carefully thought youth employment programme in the rural activities is part of the solution when it comes to economic migration," he said.

Houngbo, who served as Prime Minister of Togo from 2008 to 2012, was appointed as president of IFAD on Tuesday evening.

He beat seven other candidates to take the helm of the Rome-based agency that provides investments supporting rural people in developing countries.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)