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An Interview with Dr Kanayo Nwanze

Kanayo F. Nwanze is the current President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations, and was established in 1977 in response to the food crises of the early 1970s.

A Nigerian national, Dr. Nwanze has a strong record as an advocate and leader with a keen understanding of complex development issues. He has spent more than 35 years working across three continents to reduce poverty through agriculture, rural development and research.

Now in his second term as president of IFAD, Dr. Nwanze has made a focal point of ensuring that agriculture is a central part of the international development agenda, and that governments recognise the concerns of smallholder farmers and other poor rural people. As an intellectual leader on issues of food security, Nwanze has been a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Food & Nutrition Security since 2010, and formerly chaired the group.

Previously, Dr. Nwanze was Director-General of the AfricaRice Center of CGIAR, a global partnership of organisations engaged in research oriented toward food security. Nwanze was instrumental in introducing and promoting New Rice for Africa (NERICA), a high-yield, drought- and pest-resistant rice variety developed specifically for the African landscape.

Dr. Nwanze earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Science from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1971, and a Doctorate in Agricultural Entomology from Kansas State University, United States, in 1975.

During his visit, The University of Warwick presented Dr. Nwanze with an honorary degree, ‘Doctor of Science, honoris causa’, for his significant contribution to poverty reduction through sustainable agriculture and international development. He also presented a lecture, 'The Cost of Inaction’, as part of the Warwick Policy Lab/Department of Economics 360 Degrees lecture series.

The world has experienced one of the greatest reductions in poverty on record in recent years. Africa, where you work so frequently, is part of that story. In many developing countries – such as Ghana and, your homeland of Nigeria - a middle class is developing. Some very poor countries, such as Ethiopia and Liberia are making rapid progress. In this context, what do you see as agriculture’s role in development, particularly for Africa, but also for other nations that are struggling with high levels of rural poverty?

When we look at the global figures in terms of poverty, yes, poverty has been reduced dramatically globally. When you really look closer at the picture, you see that the most progress has been done in Asia, East Asia - particularly China - and, of course, Latin America. Africa, on the contrary, has not made such tremendous progress. In fact, China reduced poverty by over 60 percent between 1990 and 2005. India perhaps about 30 percent. In Africa, the reduction is about 16 to 18 percent only. So, Africa is still lagging behind.

In fact, Africa is the only region in the world where the absolute number of the poor has increased. Now, it is true that many African countries are experiencing phenomenal growth in terms of GDP. You mention Ghana, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. But you know, in real terms, these impressive growth rates have been basically due to the extractive industries: oil and gas, minerals, diamond, gold, copper. Unfortunately, these economic growth rates are not translating into social development.

The gap of inequality between the rich and poor in Africa is increasing. Of course, it is true that a middle class is expanding, but when you look in rural areas the story is different. The situation is very skewed between the urban and rural areas. Essentially, the phenomenal growth rates and economic empowerment are not reaching rural areas.

Dr Nwanze delivering his Warwick Policy Lab lecture.

So what are the issues here? One is that policies are not targeting rural development. Globally 75 percent of all poor people live in developing countries. There is such a great disparity between urban poverty and rural poverty. Most of the poor in these countries live in rural areas. In fact, in some countries, the figure is up to 85 percent.

Now, the paradox of all of this is that primary source of livelihoods for these poor populations is agriculture. Another part of this paradox of inequality is that 80 percent of all food that is consumed is produced in the rural areas comes from small producers, yet they are the ones who are poor. So what we’re saying here is that if you really want to eliminate poverty, if you want to make a major impact on poverty, you go where poverty exists most. So governments will have to re-engineer their policy decisions on investment.

Phenomenal growth rates and economic empowerment are not reaching rural areas.

Now investment is not just putting money into the hands of the poor. That’s not what they are looking for. They are looking for economic opportunities. And these are created through infrastructure development – things such as good road so when a farmer increases his productivity, he has a means of transporting to markets. The majority of the poor in rural areas live in very poor conditions. No infrastructure. No sanitation. No water. No electricity. No energy. Social services are oftentimes non-existent or they are very few and far between. So a shift in policy decisions by governments, by massive investments, sustaining investments in rural development is key.

In your role as president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development you emphasise the changing global context for the rural poor. Give us a sense of what you mean when you say that the global context is changing.

The new global context is very simple. We now live in one world. Not two worlds. The Ebola crisis makes this very clear. Ebola is not just an African problem. The cost of inaction could be very expensive compared to the costs of preventative action. So the global context is that we need to realise that whatever happens in one part of our world affects the whole world.

We see a very strong inter-linkage between the inequality that is arising between the rural and the urban spaces and the inequality between developing countries and the developed world. These issues of stability, conflict, migration, poverty and hunger are all inter-linked.

And that means we need to look at partnership from a totally different context - partnerships that take all members as equal, as equal as the fingers of a hand. A lot of people say all fingers are not equal. I say that is not true. Each finger is equally as important as the other. Just because they are not equal in size doesn’t mean that they are not equal in their functional activities. So from that context, big and small countries have something to offer. I think the recognition of that is key. What happens in Timbuktu today, in some remote town in Mali, affects Paris, Washington, New York, and so on.

This is true not just for Ebola, but also for completely unrelated matters – such as the alienation that seems to be an element of terrorist networks. We saw this with the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris recently. What kinds of challenges has the new global context created?

One of the greatest challenges I see that is emerging more and more is instability due to conflict. This again is linked again to the inequality between generations and between the urban and the rural space. And in fact, this is a common thread because when you look at the issue of conflict and the links to terrorism and extremism, you know, it’s when young people are disenchanted. When they migrate from the rural space to the urban space, they lose that social support structure that they have in the rural area. They want to migrate. But what do they migrate to? Look at what is happening in Europe today with this large exodus of young people from North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern European countries. We really see a demographic challenge here. I see it from two structures – between the rural and urban spaces and between the developing countries and the developed world. For us at IFAD, we see a very strong inter-linkage between the inequality that is arising between the rural and the urban spaces and the inequality between developing countries and the developed world. These issues of stability, conflict, migration, poverty and hunger are all inter-linked.

Students listen to Dr Nwanze discuss "The Cost of Inaction".

But one problem is an old one that has always been with us. One of these is food security. Food security is no longer going to be a question of whether we have enough food to feed the world available because we have the food. It’s going to be about whether people have access to food. Will the infrastructure be there? I don’t think we want 80 percent of our population to be dependent on hand outs. They’ve got to be active.

These are the problems presented by the new global context. What are the opportunities?

The opportunities come from our young population. Possibilities come from information technology today across the world. My generation struggles to keep in touch with new IT possibilities, but the new generation knows it properly. These people are just 15 to 25 years old, and they are the ones who are going to change the world.

We need to focus a lot more on these young people and their potential. Today’s world has the largest population of young people. In Africa alone, 10 million young people are entering the workforce very year. Governments are not going to be able to offer all of them jobs. But there are opportunities out there. I think if we miss this opportunity of our youth and their energy and capacity and potential, their drive to change the world, we are really going to miss a great thing.

Our cities are not going to be able to provide them with all the opportunities they need. Cities are not going to offer them all the jobs. That’s why IFAD, my institution, continues to emphasise that rural transformation is going to be key in the post-2015 discourse. With rural transformation, opportunities for youth can expand, and young people can experience life to the fullest and have opportunities, and we can achieve a balanced development process. There’s so much rhetoric when you listen to politicians talk about youth opportunities, but we’ve got to take action. That’s what I said in my open letter to African Union heads of state last year. Let’s stop all these discussions and declarations. Declarations have never fed people. It’s action. And now is the time for action.

With rural transformation, opportunities for youth can expand, and young people can experience life to the fullest and have opportunities, and we can achieve a balanced development process.

Give some examples of the kinds of actions you would like to see that could transform the world’s impoverished rural regions. What are initiatives that could gain momentum?

In the agricultural sector, I see a need to provide access to financial services for young people. The commercial banking system has to begin to think about how they can address the risk factor. They say, ‘You can’t trust youth. They have no collateral. Agriculture is a risky business.’ Of course, it is a risky business! But that’s how it feeds the world.

You see, the agricultural sector creates more than jobs. It creates social fabric, stability and cohesion within societies. It gives people economic empowerment. So you’re looking at factors that contribute to national peace and global stability. This is how I see the multi-faceted nature of giving young people opportunities to invest in their future and invest in society. They need access to capital, to land and to inputs. And then, of course, they need access to markets so they can sell what they produce. And, it doesn’t have to be just agriculture. It can be investment in other activities. But we need to recognise the value of investing in our future through youth development.

Africa’s farmers are less productive than farmers elsewhere. What needs to take place now to make agriculture a more productive pursuit for African farmers? The Green Revolution comes to mind, but there must be new scientific and economic avenues now.

A lot of times I hear my colleagues in the development community speak about the potential for African agriculture in term of the available agricultural land that has yet to be cultivated. Some say 60 to 70 percent of the available land is not being cultivated. But I don’t see that as the main issue. Africa’s agriculture is performing far below its potential - I put it at producing less than 40 percent of its potential. That is not because farmers are not cultivating the land. They are. But they are cultivating in ways that do not optimize the potential. Most African agriculture is still traditional with little or no inputs. Less than 5 percent of agricultural land is irrigated in Africa – and most of that is in South Africa and Egypt. There is very little use of organic fertilisers.

In the case of livestock, take farmers in Kenya, where livestock production is part of an integrated family approach. If you want the farmers to produce more milk, fine. Give them a better breed of cattle. But the questions we should be asking ourselves are: if they double their milk production do they have a market? Do they have refrigeration to preserve it? If farmers doubles their production of corn in Kenya or Tanzania does the price remain the same when they flood the market with overproduction? Do they have storage facilities? Do they have paved roads to take the produce to the nearest market? Are they linked with markets through market information?

So it all goes back to what I have said: investment in infrastructure. Africa spends $35 billion a year importing food. Why are we paying someone else to produce foods when they can grow that food, when that money can be invested in improving infrastructure and markets? Do you know what you’ve missed when you’ve imported $35 billion worth of food from outside the continent? It’s ridiculous.

So, it comes back to the agricultural policies, markets, linkages, right partnerships, and policies that encourage the private sector to grow. You need the private sector to optimise potential. The private sector should be seen as a partner in development. At the same time, the small producers are just as necessary as the big private sector in real partnerships.

There are countries where this is happening. Nigeria in the last three years with a dynamic minister for agriculture (Akinwumi Adesina) has brought about changes and one can see that taking place. Prior to 2012 the minister for agriculture was basically a minister for fertiliser distribution.

Less than 11 percent of the fertiliser was going to the farmers because big business was handling the fertiliser. He took the fertilizer out of the ministry and gave it to the private sector. And today 90 percent of fertilisers get to farmers. So he changed that policy. At the same time, Nigeria’s transformation agenda looks at empowering small producers with an ‘e-wallet’ system so that they can purchase fertiliser and seeds. So, it works.

Dr Kanayo Nwanze, President of The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD

Ethiopia is another good example. Before Former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres passed away, he made the priority: all rural areas must have access to water so that they can irrigate their crops. Today Ethiopia has today Africa’s largest cattle population, Africa’s second largest horticulture industry. This is basically the result of long-term investment – 11 to 14 percent of its budget into agriculture, consistently. So it can be done when you have the right leadership. Visionary leadership is often what is lacking.

What role should economics-based research play in the mission of helping to address rural poverty?

We need evidence-based research. Economics needs to show the worth of every dollar that is invested in development, and not just in agriculture – in infrastructure, social services and capacity building. We have to be able to monetise outputs. Governments need evidence–based advice and policies. If you’re not able to link economics with social development, you see it’s like…well, yes, African countries have experienced phenomenal growth rates, but what does that mean? Where is it impacting? Who is benefitting from these large investments that are taking place in oil and gas? This is where we need economic analysis. In some cases, perhaps you just need to do very quick randomised trials. But you need the analytics - unless you just want to talk politics with politicians.

We need evidence-based research. Economics needs to show the worth of every dollar that is invested in development, and not just in agriculture – in infrastructure, social services and capacity building.

I say this because in the development sector, in my institution, we tend to look at how much investment goes into development. But we’re not looking at the results in terms of how we can use this to show the value of every dollar invested. I think this is the value of the academic community like you have here at The University of Warwick. You create platforms. You bring academia to the private sector. You are a knowledge institution, and the knowledge should not just stay within the academic walls. Either you take the knowledge outside, or you bring people in from the outside so that they are exposed to the value of the work that is done. I think the same way should be pursued with development circles. There is a need with this kind of partnership with those of us in development who are not engaged in this deep dive economic analysis. I think the key word is partnership.

Climate change is certainly part of the new global context. How will climate change affect efforts to increase food production in Africa, and in turn how will rising food production in Africa and elsewhere affect climate change?

There is a lot to learn from the past so that mistakes in further developed countries are not made in Africa in its process of development. There are two important lessons. One is the moderate use of chemical fertiliser so that agriculture will not pollute the environment, and the second is the moderate use of water resources so that agriculture will not deplete water resources. We preach that Africa’s agriculture should be more of the Greener Revolution type. Why?

Better seeds. Better breeds of animals. Increased use of fertilisers so that the soil can regenerate itself. Better irrigation systems. Technologies of the 21st century are far ahead of the technologies of the ‘60s and ‘70s when we had the Green Revolution. So we should be able to use these technologies. For instance, on irrigation. You now have micro-irrigation, drops to a plant compared to wide sprinklers. So I think there is a lot for us to learn from that.

Policies must look at conservation. In the food chain, we can reduce waste – and not just in Africa, but globally. Globally, we are losing 20 to 40 percent of everything we produce before it gets to the table. And we are wasting another 20 to 30 percent after that. Half of the world’s food production today is lost. So, we can actually feed today’s world by making proper use of existing technologies to reduce losses and waste. These are things I think we should be able to do without really having to reinvent the wheel.

Dr Nwanze in discussion with HEad of Department Professor Abhinay Muthoo

In Africa and developing countries on other continents, many rural farmers are subsisting on starch-based crops, and they do not have a healthy diet. What needs to happen to provide more varied or more nutritious crops?

For years and even today, people see nutrition as a health issue. It’s not only a health issue. It is also an agricultural issue. For poor people in rural areas, their main source of livelihood is agriculture. You are what you eat, and what you grow is what you eat. So if you really want to address the issue of malnutrition in the developing countries where the population of those who are suffering from nutrition deficiencies is, you address what they eat and what they grow. I have nothing against interventions that involve fortified foods with fortified ingredients and so forth. They can be complementary to the agricultural system.

Agriculture has a major role to play. It will cost about $10 billion a year for 15 years to reduce by 50 percent the population of malnourished children in the developing world. It would only cost a fraction of that if we had interventions to see that the food intake of these populations was diversified through the growth of vegetable crops. The cost of inaction is so much higher than the cost of action before it becomes a crisis.

Do you see that happening is some places?

Rwanda is a good case. This is where I give credit to President (Paul) Kagame, a very dynamic leader. The “One Cow One Family” programme has been so successful that it has become a national programme in Rwanda. Basically the production of milk went up. The consumption of milk went up. Child nutrition went up. There are some simple programmes like this that have been repeated in a few other countries. If I get a cow, when that cow calves, I must give one of the calves to a neighbour who doesn’t have a cow. And they do this with goats as well.

If I get a cow, when that cow calves, I must give one of the calves to a neighbour who doesn’t have a cow. And they do this with goats as well.

You see, the Green Revolution that occurred in Asia in the ‘60s and ‘70s will take place in Africa but in a different form. It doesn’t have to be the same Green Revolution as it was. But the whole concept of a Green Revolution is a transformation of process. So we should not look at it as just hybrid seeds alone and large inputs of fertiliser. No. Now we’re looking at a more complex situation with the right policies, the right kinds of government-public sector-producer partnerships, new technologies, and IT. So the opportunities are fantastic when you look at it. But we need to learn. How is it that China experienced a major famine in the ‘60s and ‘70s with 1 million people who died, and 20 or 30 years later was able to be a major development partner? How is it that Brazil grew from its position 35 or 40 years ago when it was receiving massive food aid? How is it that Vietnam is the now second largest exporter of rice?

So when you think about the tragic history of famine in Africa in this international development context. What has to happen to make this kind of transformation possible on that continent?

Ethiopia is a good example. We saw the pitiful pictures from the Band Aid of the ‘80s, but go to Ethiopia today. After 15 years under Meles (Meles Zenawi Asres, Ethiopian prime minister 1995-2012) Government investment, mobilization of population. We have to understand that development is not something we do for people. Development is something people do for themselves. Our role is to help them. How do we help them to catalyse, to facilitate, to support – so that they themselves can move themselves out of poverty. We don’t move people out of poverty. They move out of poverty. Ethiopia. The right policies. Infrastructure.

Mobilisation of populations. The population must be part of it. You don’t transform people. They transform themselves. And the only way they transform themselves is when they take ownership of the transformative process. You don’t impose development on people. You help them to develop themselves. People criticized Meles for his style of government. I am not into that politics. I am into the fact that he invested in his people. Yes, he may have been high-handed. He may have been a dictator. Maybe that’s how he did it. But he certainly led his country. Mark this: Ethiopia does not have an extractive industry. No oil. No gas. No minerals have been exploited. It has been done all through investment in agriculture and in his people…in policies, in social systems. Come on, it can be done!

This interview was conducted and edited by Karen Brandon, Communications Manager for the Department of Economics at The University of Warwick.