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UN Agriculture Official Links Aid to Farmers, Drop in Poverty, Migration


FILE - Gilbert Houngbo, now head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, pictured in 2006.

Training young farmers to turn agriculture into a business is key to eradicating poverty and curbing economic migration, the new president of the U.N. agricultural development agency said Wednesday.

Three-quarters of the world's poorest people live in rural areas, predominantly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and many rely on farming to survive, according to the United Nations.

Countries need to provide them with better equipment and infrastructure to carry out world leaders' ambitious plan to end poverty and hunger by 2030, according to Gilbert Houngbo, head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"To unleash the business spirit in smallholder women and men [farmers] is critical," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Greater government investment needs to go hand in hand with educational schemes and private-sector partnerships aimed at broadening young people's skills and prospects, he said.

He suggested, for example, that training schemes could help tomato growers become producers of tomato sauce.

Drawing on his experience

Although Houngbo has previously held senior roles at big international bodies, he said it was growing up in a small village in a rural area of Togo, one of the world's poorest countries, that best prepared him for his new job.

"I know how it feels, not being able to increase the yield, as at the end of the season, when you have your crop, you cannot bring it to the market because you there is no rural road," he said.

Houngbo said that helping young people from villages like his own fulfill their potential at home would make them less inclined to migrate to rich countries.

"I believe that a carefully thought out youth employment program in the rural activities is part of the solution when it comes to economic migration," he said.

Houngbo, who was prime minister of Togo from 2008 to 2012, was appointed president of IFAD on Tuesday evening.

He beat seven other candidates to take the helm of the Rome-based agency, which provides investments supporting rural people in developing countries.

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