H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA), delivered this speech virtually for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) 45th Governing Council Session on 16 February 2022. The event was held in a hybrid format based in Rome.
Your excellencies, ministers, ambassadors, and members of IFAD,
It is a great honor to address this Governing Council.
These are challenging times. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust millions of people back into poverty. And climate change is threatening livelihoods worldwide.
These risks are highest in emerging markets, in the countries with the fewest tools to manage them. And women and families working in rural agriculture are disproportionately affected. Millions in the informal sector are not receiving public support, and don’t have the means to weather new shocks.
While some of us are imagining new futures after the pandemic, for many more recovery is still a distant dream.
That is why building resilience of individuals and households is more critical than ever.
As this Council recognizes, for many, getting access to finance is the starting point of that journey.
Accessing and using payments, savings, insurance, and credit products are the keys that unlock the door to rebuilding, adapting, and planning for the future.
So how can we offer those keys to the millions still left out?
There are no silver bullets. But there are grounds for hope, in new technologies, and in new forms of public-private partnership.
Let me share an example.
In Côte d’Ivoire, women are the cornerstone of the cashew industry, from picking to processing. But many have been unable to reach their full potential, because they do not have enough access to finance, labor, and markets.
Development experts, partnering with technologies, are supporting the roll out of digital platforms which provide financial services, market access, and training. These one-stop shops are connecting sellers with local buyers offering fair prices and unlocking additional economic opportunity for those traditionally left out of value chains.
Now, is technology a panacea? No.
It should be accompanied with digital connectivity, digital literacy, and safeguards, such as consumer protection.
If done right, technology can support resilience by giving people tools to meet their daily needs, grow their businesses, and create buffers against shocks.
Agriculture employs two thirds of people across sub-Saharan Africa, and accounts for almost a third of GDP.
Yet rural small-scale producers are systematically underfunded – and have been even more so since the pandemic.
There is an opportunity here for responsible private sector innovators to step in and help fill the global financing gap of US$170 billion, to help small-scale producers gain access to credit and markets.
Large agricultural companies can create new value by working with groups previously left out. Kyagalany, Uganda’s top coffee exporter, found that integrating women into trainings led to 50% higher yields over five years.
Governments can enable this work with smart regulation, and by investing in new digital and financial infrastructure. They can help make finance less risky through blending their own capital with the private sector and by providing guarantees. IFAD’s global private sector financing facility is one promising example of that support.
Financial innovations can also help drive the transition to low-carbon energy, to tackle climate change.
Advances in asset finance, such as pay-as-you-go off-grid energy models, can provide rural people with access to new markets and sustainable technology – and at the same time improve their resilience.
IFAD has taken an important step by focusing this session on finance and innovation.
There is evidence that with the right approaches, we can make this work. Since 2011, 1.2 billion more people have gained access to financial services – and the chance to transform their lives.
If we can ensure innovations are introduced responsibly, and if we can hold ourselves properly accountable, we can bring the remaining 1.7 billion into the fold.
Best practice exists, and innovations are ongoing. So, let us take this opportunity to make this happen.
Thank you very much.