By United Nations
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19 February - Investing in rural youth in developing countries is vital to eradicating poverty in those communities and ensuring global food security, the head of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) stressed on Saturday.

IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze told delegates to the Fund's annual meeting, which opened today in Rome, that supporting young women and men is critical to building vibrant rural economies, which in turn is key to overcoming larger challenges such as reducing hunger and poverty, mitigating climate change, achieving energy security and protecting the environment.

“Current events show the energy, creativity and power of young people, and also the importance of ensuring that they can see a future for themselves in the societies in which they live,” he said at the opening of the two-day meeting of IFAD's Governing Council.

Mr. Nwanze called for investing in rural youth and helping them become better and more successful farmers and business people.

“These young people are the next generation of farmers, producers and workers,” he said. “Give them the skills and confidence they need to run profitable farms or start businesses, and they will become the upstanding citizens and community leaders of tomorrow.

“Ignore them, and they will have little option but to leave their homes and families to search for work in the cities, seeking better lives but oftentimes finding only more misery,” he warned.

In most developing countries, agriculture is already the leading provider of employment for people ages 15 to 24, according to IFAD. However, agriculture rarely provides a living wage and the sector is typified by low levels of productivity, dangerous work and lack of social protection.

Rural youth is the main focus of this year's session, which features agricultural and rural development experts, young entrepreneurs from rural areas and youth leaders, and will explore some of the challenges faced by rural young people.

The meeting takes place amid growing concerns about food shortages. In her keynote address to the Governing Council, UN Messenger of Peace Princess Haya Al Hussein called for an urgent and effective global response to food shortages and world hunger, and urged donors to fulfill their commitments to food programmes.

“Somehow, in a world exploding with prosperity and possibility we have forfeited our moral authority. We are morally bankrupt,” she said. “We have lost the sense of compassion and community that makes life worthwhile. We can spend over a trillion dollars for armaments as we fight over scraps of land, ideology and religion and, yet, we let 300 million children starve...

“Many of our politicians remain out of touch, uncomprehending of life for those who live at the brink of starvation. They do not deliver funds on the scale we need for real progress. Even worse, they fail to honor the pledges they make.”

Meanwhile, the Fund has announced the establishment of an indigenous peoples' forum under its auspices aimed at advancing the participation of indigenous peoples in IFAD discussions and programmes that have an impact on them.

The agency noted that indigenous peoples, who make up one-third of the world's one billion extreme poor in rural areas, are among the most vulnerable and marginalized of any group.

“Spread over 70 countries and representing diverse cultural backgrounds, they share many common challenges such as limited access to healthcare and education, loss of control over lands, displacement and violations of basic human rights,” IFAD stated.

“IFAD's special interest in supporting them is based not only on poverty reduction, social justice and humanitarian concerns, but also the value that indigenous people in many cases contribute to sustainable agriculture, especially given the rich knowledge and understanding of ecosystem management that they have.”