The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

Setting Our Sights Beyond “Normal”

By President Gilbert Houngbo

In September 2019, amidst troubling increases in food insecurity and widespread poverty, the United Nations launched the Decade of Action to galvanize global resolve to achieve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. COVID-19, however, has moved our starting line back a great distance. At the same time, the impacts of the pandemic have revealed inequities and flaws in food systems worldwide, making the need for a Decade of Action more pressing than ever.

The world is already stepping up to the challenge. Many developed economies are nearing something akin to the “normalcy” that prevailed at the beginning of 2020. Meanwhile, much of the developing world continues to experience the full impacts of this unprecedented pandemic. Clearly, returning to “normal” is not good enough, nor near enough as we may wish.

Despite the need for immediate measures to fight the pandemic, we must keep the longer-term agenda in sight. This vision must include an action plan to transform global food systems. We need to create greater food security and social justice for the entire global population.

The World Food Prize Foundation’s theme of “Gaining Momentum” can help us meet this challenge. It provides an ideal opportunity for global leaders in food and agriculture to formulate comprehensive action plans. To succeed, we need bold commitments, innovative solutions, and systematic collective action.


In the last year, every nation has strained its budget to restore normalcy, while cutting valuable services and programs. Nonetheless, IFAD’s Member States saw the need for their continued bold commitments to end hunger and address climate change by 2030. They agreed to a monumental target of US$3.8 billion in new financing for the Fund, pledging more than US$1.1 billion in core contributions to date. This funding will help us reach 140 million vulnerable people in rural and underserved areas of the world over the next three years.

No one experiences impacts from COVID-19 and climate change more severely than rural people in the world’s poorest countries. This year, out of IFAD’s 177 Member States, some of the first to make bold pledges were developing nations. This underscores how much they value their partnership with IFAD while putting pressure on traditional donors to also step up.

Contributions from developing countries have indeed been remarkable. Some, like Mali and Burkina Faso, have doubled their pledges. Others, like Tonga and Solomon Islands, have pledged for the first time in decades. These commitments have inspired more prosperous nations to set themselves a higher standard.

For its part, IFAD has developed two additional mechanisms to fight climate change and stimulate private sector engagement. The Enhanced Adaptation Programme for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP+) builds on our previous achievements. Meanwhile, our Private Sector Investment Programme aims to catalyze investment in small-scale agriculture, providing a mechanism for large financial commitments.

From increased funding for essential interventions by bilateral and multilateral development institutions, to greater climate engagement at COP26, to support for innovative change-agents such as World Food Prize Laureate Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted, we need bold commitments to avoid a return to “business as usual.”


From the start of the pandemic in 2020, IFAD recognized we cannot simply nudge food systems in the right direction. Instead, we must transform them completely. More responsive food systems will be equipped to address the economic, climatic, environmental, and nutritional objectives that determine quality of life for all of us.

In the face of the pandemic, IFAD-supported projects adapted quickly to the needs of communities.

In the hills of Uttarakhand, India, for example, collectives began making and selling masks. In this way, they increased safety, enhanced livelihoods, and stimulated interest in embroidery training among rural farm entrepreneurs. Some beneficiaries even began selling products online and live streaming embroidery classes for the first time.

In Bangladesh, IFAD quickly discerned food value chains were breaking down with fears of the virus. Our team approached the government with a proposal for a hygienic transport and logistics system to move agricultural inputs and produce in rural areas. This system, which met national and WHO standards, was applied to the safe harvest and distribution of rice and vegetables to markets. It was also applied to safety protocols for transporting inputs and equipment for the upcoming cropping season of tropical vegetables, paddy, and maize.

Even during a crisis, crops must be harvested, and food products must be processed and distributed. Above all, people need to eat. This calls for transforming food systems, possibly more quickly than ever before.


The Borlaug Dialogue will fall on the heels of several major events, heightening its strategic importance. In the build-up to the World Food Prize events, for example, the UN will hold its Food Systems Summit. Only last week, the Food System Pre-Summit events took place, including a parallel session building up to the Second Finance in Common Summit of Public Development Banks (PDBs). Consequently, the Borlaug Dialogue is an opportunity to synchronize and systematize our approaches across the global food security arena.

We know the challenges ahead. In 2019, the Food and Land Use Coalition estimated that US$300 – US$350 billion per year is needed over the next decade to transform food systems. Building on a consensus that began with the first Finance in Common Summit back in November 2020, IFAD is facilitating an initiative to leverage the power of public development banks (PDBs) to scale up green and inclusive investment to help achieve the SDGs, as well as to channel finance from all sources for more sustainable and inclusive food systems outcomes.

Now is the time to seize the moment. Together, we can unlock the potential of more effective investments and partnerships to transform food systems at scale across the world towards a new normal—the world free of hunger and poverty envisioned by the 2030 Agenda.

08/03/2021 10:57 AM |Add a comment
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