The specialized UN agency proposes for setting up of transport and logistics network for movement of agricultural inputs
Three-quarters of the poorest people in the world live in the rural areas of developing countries. Most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihood. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized United Nations agency headquartered in Rome, invests in rural people, empowering them to increase their food security and increase their incomes. A long period of lockdown is in force now in Bangladesh as is the case in many other countries of the world to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. Maintaining agricultural supply chain amidst such a situation is a big challenge and IFAD has developed a proposal for setting up of a transport and logistics network for movement of agricultural inputs to farmers and products to markets in rural areas. In an interview with Dhaka Tribune's Executive Editor, Reaz Ahmad, IFAD Country Director in Bangladesh, Omer Zafar, talks about this and also discuss its portfolio in Bangladesh, worth US$ 1 billion, that aims at rural economic growth and poverty reduction, agriculture sector modernization and commercialization, climate change mitigation and adaptation, women’s empowerment and youth agenda, food security and nutrition, and micro-enterprise growth and job creation.
Q: We know IFAD has been all through a great help for smallholder farmers across the globe. How it is reshaping its activities in helping out the vulnerable and marginal farm communities during the current Covid-19 pandemic.
A: IFAD is working with its partners to ensure that the global health crisis does not become a global food security crisis. At the global level, IFAD’s strategic response to the COVID-19 crisis is centred on a coordinated range of activities that address immediate impacts, prevent the erosion of results from past and ongoing operations, and put in place the building blocks to support post-crisis recovery. These activities are grouped into four areas globally. First, we are investing in immediate solutions to support farmers by repurposing some funding in ongoing projects. Second, IFAD has launched a multi-donor COVID-19 Rural Poor Stimulus Facility to provide a scaled-up response to complement our repurposed investments. Third, we are advising and supporting Governments as they work to mitigate some of the most severe impacts of the crisis. And fourth, we are gearing up to support the rebuilding of rural economies and eradicating rural poverty and hunger in a post–COVID-19 context.
Q: Would you please share with us any specific step/s that IFAD has taken to help farmers withstand the pandemic hardship in Bangladesh.
A: This is a critical time for agriculture and food security in Bangladesh. IFAD has developed a proposal for setting up of a transport and logistics network for movement of agricultural inputs to farmers and products to markets in rural areas. This network would operate on the basis of COVID-19 safety protocols. We have encouraged our implementing partners to work on quick operational adjustments, such as deferring loan repayments for microenterprises and ensuring quick payments to rural construction workers. Finally, we are working with our partners to see how to repurpose some funds from ongoing projects for input supply, harvest support, and market distribution of crops, livestock, poultry and fish products using a safe transportation and logistics network.
Q: How did the pandemic impact IFAD activities in Bangladesh and how are you coping with the challenges.
A: IFAD provides support to the Government and national implementing partners, including the Ministry of Agriculture and its agencies, LGED, PKSF and BWDB. We currently have an active portfolio in Bangladesh amounting to about US$ 1 billion (about BDT 8400 crore) aimed at rural economic growth and poverty reduction, agriculture sector modernization and commercialization, climate change mitigation and adaptation, women’s empowerment and youth agenda, food security and nutrition, and micro-enterprise growth and job creation. Clearly, the projects we finance are currently facing some difficulties due to the crisis. We are continuing to communicate with our implementing partners using digital technology and jointly trying to set up the implementation of rapid response activities for rural communities.
Q: What sorts of coordination among the three UN food and agriculture agencies – IFAD, FAO and WFP – is in place in Bangladesh right now to address the pandemic situation collectively.
A: As a member of the United Nations Country Team in Bangladesh, IFAD collaborates with all UN agencies in the country including FAO and WFP. The UN Country Team is currently developing a country preparedness and response plan in coordination with the Government. The plan includes immediate health sector support, social stability initiatives, and socio-economic recovery. Furthermore, regarding food security, FAO, IFAD, WFP and other partners are developing plans to support the Government on ensuring continued food production and distribution to markets.
Q: Due to the prolonged lockdown, food chain management, crop harvesting and transportation and marketing of agro-input are in trouble. What policy recommendations IFAD made to ease the situation.
A: IFAD is part of the Working Group on Agriculture under the Local Consultative Group mechanism. This working group is chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and co-chaired by the Country Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. IFAD, FAO and other members of the working group are in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that there is a concerted effort to ensure that proper policies/measures are in place to support the agriculture sector.
Q: What sorts of financial aid, grants, loan Bangladesh can expect from IFAD during this time of corona crisis.
A: IFAD will continue to provide financial support to Bangladesh, as we have been doing since 1979. Bangladesh currently stands as IFAD’s second-largest country programme worldwide. We are currently working on allocating rapidly the remaining US$19 million in our pipeline for this replenishment cycle for COVID-19 response and recovery activities.
Q: The country that hosts IFAD’s headquarters is one of the worst-hit. Can you share a brief IFAD experience on helping out Italians during this hard time?
A: IFAD invests in developing countries which are member states. We do not finance activities in Italy. However, IFAD staff themselves have contributed to several initiatives to donate funds to local hospitals and the civil protection authorities.