Growth of rural economy will help ease Asian extreme poverty, says expert

Ireland could lead the way to joint approach to agriculture, climate, nutrition and health policies, says Tom Arnold

Africa, including sub-Saharan countries, was half way down a similar route which would eventually lead to sustained economic growth and stabilisation of its population too, expert predicts. Photograph: Getty Images

Africa, including sub-Saharan countries, was half way down a similar route which would eventually lead to sustained economic growth and stabilisation of its population too, expert predicts. Photograph: Getty Images

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Asia will soon see an end to extreme poverty, which was made possible by the growth of rural economies, according to Steve Wiggins of Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London.

In the 1960s many had predicted the continent was facing a cataclysm, but it never happened because of “mundane miracles”, he told the annual conference of the Irish Forum for International Agricultural Development (IFIAD) at Iveagh House, Dublin on Wednesday.

Africa, including sub-Saharan countries, was half way down a similar route which would eventually lead to sustained economic growth and stabilisation of its population too, he predicted.

In Asia’s case, a green revolution started in the 1960s “never ended”, and was marked by increased agricultural in-put combined with urbanisation. “Small farms may be getting smaller but they are getting more productive,” said Mr Wiggins who is principal research fellow with the ODI.

Roads, technology, land tenure changes and the emergence of private traders who generated competition for agricultural products all played a part which would soon see an end to extreme poverty. “It’s what we all dreamed of.”

Both Asia and Africa faced tough challenges on sustainability and climate change but he had no doubt they could be met.

The chairman of the European Commission Task Force on Rural Africa, Tom Arnold, outlined how Ireland was once a leader on global nutrition, and set out how it could regain its influential position by adopting cross-government coherence on agriculture; climate, nutrition and health policies.

“A sufficiently-clear plan to attain the objectives of carbon neutrality in agriculture” was, however, absent, he added.

He highlighted disappointment with the recent budget because of a lack of progress in increasing carbon tax. The Food Wise 2020 plan had delivered on its objectives in expanding agricultural production, but not on equivalent environmental objectives, he said.

Prof Jessica Fanzo of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said no country in the world had been able to mitigate the obesity trend; as a consequence “diet is now the biggest killer in the world”.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Michael Creed said “sustainable agricultural development is central to the realisation of Ireland’s international development objectives”. He acknowledged the role of IFIAD as a forum for sharing knowledge and good practice in relation to agriculture and international development.

On Ireland’s approach to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, he said his department was one of the five lead departments on the commitment to achieving “zero hunger” by 2030.

“The eradication of hunger and under-nutrition has long been a cornerstone of Ireland’s international development co-operation programme. Ireland recognises the central role of nutrition in achieving sustainable development, and that improvements in nutrition are necessary for progress on global health, education, poverty, female empowerment and inequality,” he added.

Mr Creed said just two out of 44 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had quality agricultural data, which underlined the challenge in devising effective policies to tackle global hunger.

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