IFAD Empowers Small Farmers to Help Improve Global Food Security

Joe McCarthy and Pia Gralki


Farmers in central Gambia whose livelihoods are threatened by climate change have found relief in community gardens that establish a template for long-term environmental resilience.

Entrepreneurs in the Polochic River Valley in Guatemala have been able to band together to form community credit unions that increase access to new markets. 

Farmers in the province of Jiangxi in southeast China have been able to leverage new technology and ecommerce opportunities to earn higher incomes

These are just a few stories of how broad prosperity can be created by arming small, agricultural communities with the resources they need to get ahead in complex international marketplaces amid rapidly changing environmental conditions.

They’re stories of poverty reduction and climate resilience, examples of how economic growth can be done in a sustainable way.

And they’re a result of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations and international financial institution that’s working with governments worldwide to invest in rural communities around the world and achieve the Global Goals.  

Global Citizen is partnering with IFAD in 2020 for the Global Goal Live campaign to help mobilize $10 billion in new investments that would help more than 100 million small-scale producers by 2025.

The partnership aims to support the United Nations’ Global Goal 2: Zero Hunger. By empowering small-scale farmers and rural producers, global food security can be improved at a time when world hunger is rising. More broadly, we’re trying to transform food systems around the world to ensure they stay within the ecological limits of the planet.  

IFAD believes that focusing on rural communities is key to ending extreme poverty, preparing the world for the intensifying effects of climate change, and empowering marginalized groups.  

More than 3 billion people live in rural areas in developing countries and the majority rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. As climate change increases global temperatures and disrupts precipitation patterns, these rural communities are being impacted in ways that threaten to unravel entire countries. Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, years of drought have significantly harmed crop yields and triggered a massive hunger crisis.

There’s also a disconnect between the importance of agriculture to local and national economies and the investments made by governments to support agricultural projects.

Agriculture is an important economic driver in Africa. It accounts for at least 40% of gross domestic product in nearly all sub-Saharan countries. In 2003, many leaders signed onto the African Union’s Maputo Declaration, committing to allocate 10% of government expenditures to agriculture and rural development. Despite reaffirming their commitment in 2014, government expenditures on average in Africa are 2.3% of annual budgets in support of agricultural projects. 

This disparity oftentimes squanders farmer productivity, income, and resilience. Without proper access to technology, resources, insurance, loans, markets, and more, farmers struggle to reach their full potential and often stay stuck in poverty.   

How IFAD works 

IFAD-financed projects and programs support the long-term economic health of rural communities. They promote environmental regeneration, women’s empowerment, youth employment, better nutrition and improved food security. 

IFAD’s approach is community-driven, which means it designs interventions based on consultations with people in the community itself. Sometimes this means setting up community credit unions, helping farmers access new technologies and resources, or providing training programs on a variety of subjects. 

All IFAD-financed projects are supported from start to finish by IFAD team members who work hand-in-hand with national and local governments. 

Each project begins with an extensive review and consultation process that includes communities and government bodies to ensure that IFAD's proposals support their development priorities. Government agencies then fully implement the projects, with some supervision and guidance from IFAD.   

Every year, IFAD’s investments help 20 million poor rural people increase their incomes by at least 20%, while improving their production and resilience to climate shocks. 

Through these efforts, since starting operations in 1978, IFAD-supported projects and programmes have helped an estimated 512 million people “grow more food, better manage their land and natural resources, learn new skills, start small businesses, build strong organizations and gain a voice in decisions that affect their lives.”

IFAD takes a holistic approach to rural development. 

In 2016 alone, IFAD-financed projects trained 2 million people in improved crop cultivation, 1.6 million people in raising livestock, 1.4 million people in how to better care for local environments, and 1 million people in entrepreneurship and business management. IFAD-supported initiatives also restored or built roads, helped communities take control of their land, and oversaw the development of 32,000 marketing groups to support farmers and businesspeople. 

IFAD’s commitment to empowering women, marginalized people, and youth, meanwhile, is woven throughout all of the projects it finances. In 2016, half of the people who benefitted from IFAD-funded projects were women.

This is important because women farmers and women in rural communities struggle to gain access to resources, institutional support, and fair income.

If women farmers had the same opportunities as men, then they could boost their yields by up to 30%, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In one IFAD-supported program in Guinea’s Faranah region, women farmers have been able to substantially increase their income by joining community gardens that provide access to high-quality fertilizer, fences, better seeds, technology, and access to markets. 

Young people are also a priority for IFAD. In rural areas, youth often struggle to find job opportunities. IFAD-support to training and micro-credit programs have helped many new entrepreneurs establish a foothold in a market and grow their businesses.  

An IFAD-backed credit union in rural Guinea, for instance, helped an entrepreneur who had struggled for years to find a government job to rapidly expand his plot of land and earn a much higher income. 

IFAD also works to empower Indigenous peoples to earn high incomes and gain more political representation, while protecting the integrity of their traditions. 

Indigenous peoples are often marginalized, denied political rights and government aid, and displaced from their land. More than a third of the world’s extremely poor rural people, for example, are Indigenous

Indigenous peoples, meanwhile, are unrivaled stewards of natural environments. As climate change and resource exploitation intensify around the world, giving Indigenous peoples space and freedom to oversee vast swaths of land will be critical to protecting the planet. 

Through a partnership with Slow Food, an IFAD-supported project works with the Wichi people of Chaco Salteño to help them sell wild honey in international markets at fair prices, while allowing beekeepers to have full control over the pace and degree of development. 

IFAD views these interventions as the first steps toward building peace and prosperity. When community gardens or credit unions pop up in rural communities, people living in extreme poverty suddenly have the chance to earn higher wages, secure better food, and invest in their families and neighbors.