Poverty in Latin America increased in 2015, according to the Social Panorama report released in March. And while the region is composed mainly of middle-income economies, inequality persists, especially in rural areas. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean is now asking countries to “protect the progress achieved in recent years and prevent social rollbacks amid a scenario of lower economic growth.”
How can the international community address the challenges and safeguard social welfare gains? The International Fund for Agricultural Development believes it is vital to invest in rural communities and respond in a holistic and inclusive way.
“We not only develop programs that address nutrition or social protection, but we go further and we invest in people to become productive,” Joaquín Lozano, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at IFAD, told Devex in Rome.
Implementing such a holistic approach is not an easy task, and the first challenges are knowing where to focus the intervention and defining the target population, he said. Lozano argues that the key is investing in a “layer of people capable of producing, and we can bring them from just subsistence to be able to sell and become more independent.”
The second challenge is to identify the “area of emphasis,” he told Devex. “If we just address gender or financial inclusion or if it’s an irrigation project and we just treat it like that, then we don’t have the rest of the components in the complementing activities to make that work in the long term.”
Here are some excerpts from our conversation with Lozano, who shared his view on the LAC region’s development priorities as well as IFAD’s organizational strategies:
What do you believe are the most innovative solutions that you are putting in place in Latin America? Do you envision new approaches to address some of the challenges we are discussing?
I think now the focus and the innovation have to come through programs with a very strong emphasis on youth. Finding out their motivation, we need to find the right incentive for them to want to stay in rural areas with the prospect of a better life … We are working with young people on creating working groups, identifying leaders [who] can then help us to develop more targeted programs [that] don’t have to necessarily relate to agriculture or farming activities. [Young people] are very interested in technologies for production, but also for selling, in communicating and learning from other experiences.
Another key element is that we are bringing young people from different countries to hear success stories and experiences from young people in other countries … This is a kind of innovation: Listening to them, addressing issues that nobody has addressed before, because we are used to just designing projects according to what we think [beneficiaries] need.
You mentioned partnership with the private sector. How are you thinking about innovative partnerships in your programming and how do these partnerships work in practice?
We’re partnering with private sector organizations that can give platforms for training, for developing value chains or strengthening value chains — like in Guatemala through export associations. They’re helping us … to train people in Central America on how to improve productivity, how to access the market, and how to integrate into a value chain. That has proven very successful.
Another way of engaging farmers is with large supermarket companies. Now it is trendy to have niche products, and more sophisticated consumers and markets are demanding organic products … That’s something that they can help us to develop.
What are your personal expectations as head of IFAD’s LAC division, and what challenges do you expect to have to face?
I would like to see the Latin America and the Caribbean division engaging in the [overall] corporate agenda in IFAD, because Latin America — in terms of the share of the funds we have allocated — we are smaller compared to Africa or Asia.
We have a lot to show and a very good basis [from which] to experiment and innovate, because we've gone a long way already. We have very interesting success stories to tell, so we would like to engage more in the corporate debate and in the rural debate as well, [because] this region has a very peculiar, mixed profile.
We also want to try to differentiate what we need to do with the bigger countries [and] what we need to do with the smaller and more fragile ones … Within the region we still have to focus and give each country the products that they need. That’s a challenge: to see the region as a whole, and with that understanding, engage in the corporate agenda not only in IFAD, but with other [international financial institutions], and then within the region to differentiate what we need to be doing in each of the areas in which we are working.
A big challenge is also the Caribbean, because we don’t have a very strong portfolio there ... We need to find the way to engage better.
What are the strategies that you envision are needed to achieve these objectives and goals?
The first strategy is to strengthen the decentralization of our presence in the field. In the past few years we have moved towards decentralizing our presence. There is still a ways to go there, but in my view the lesson learned by having opened up offices in the field has already given us the evidence that our programs are [now] more effective. Not necessarily efficient, but effective.
Are you going to launch more of them?
We are planning on it … The next step [is] consolidating the model, and the strategy will be to do it through subregional offices where we can be more effective in the way we intervene, but also more efficient in the way we deliver. … Even if we don’t have an office in each country, proximity will help a lot in terms of gaining confidence and influence in policy dialogue.
The next area of strategic planning for achieving the goals is “south-south” cooperation, triangular cooperation … We have to learn from each other.
Do you think “south-south” cooperation is still too weak?
[Development actors] tend to be very country-focused or even project-focused. Sometimes [the coordinators of a] project within a country aren’t aware of what other projects financed by the same institution are doing. We have to promote and encourage knowledge sharing within a country.
How could this impact the staff of the LAC division? Are you thinking about different ways of working for IFAD staff engaged in Latin America?
Yes, we need to revise the way we are organized currently. Again, with the vision of finding the right balance between the people working in the field and the people who work here [in Rome], bringing the experience from the field back to headquarters, and sharing the headquarters experience and knowledge into the field.
I had never been to Rome before: I joined IFAD three years ago when I was directly outposted to Guatemala, so I am hoping to bring the field experience to the division and then gain from the discussion at the corporate level with other regions, in other areas of IFAD — not only [with the] program management department but also in the strategic knowledge department, in the technical areas, the evaluation. I expect [staff] to spend a lot of time in the field.
Are there any specific skills or expertise that would be required?
Yes, you need to have knowledge of the region, definitely. You need to be sensitive in terms of the needs of the rural population, you need to be a good manager of different working groups because you need to be able to address not only people who speak the technical language within a team to design a project [but also] people who don’t really understand rural development itself because they are just focused on [other] aspects.
Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.
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