Mr Lennart Bage, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) was in India for a week long visit. During this, he visited several IFAD partnered projects and met senior officials in the government. Bage is also on the United Nation’s Reform panel which is deliberating a “deliver as one” concept for the world body.
This panel is examining to inject “coherence” and a unified budget geared to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) along with an innovative funding programme.
In an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, Bage discussed UN reforms and IFAD’s interventions and the road ahead in its partnership with India.
Q: You are a votary of the One UN concept. How and what would this translate into?
A: The starting point was to see how all the UN agencies could deliver as one. The idea is to ensure coherence and coordination. Delivering as One is a good catch phrase. The key issue is country ownership because as UN agencies we are here to serve the needs of the country and delivering as effectively as possible.
Q: According to Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and I quote “the most radical and dramatic thing we can do is to do nothing”. Would you comment.
A: I think we are committed to reach the MDGs. And it is in the light of the perceived fragmentation that there is a need to strengthen the UN system, given the fact that the Official Development Assistance (ODA) is going up significantly. There is a growing international commitment to development and allocating resources for it and a need for a stronger delivery system. In order to play a stronger role, the UN needs to be coordinated and coherent.
Q: Has UN, in its present structure, lost its relevance?
A: I actually think it is the opposite. When we look at the world today we have climate change, migration and health related issues. There has to be a global approach to deal with this. The UN has to be stronger to help individuals and nations to manage global issues and challenges.
No one any longer lives as a nation on its own. We are all integrated. Therefore there is a need for UN more than ever to tackle new areas of environment, development and humanitarian assistance. The idea is not that all UN agencies work together on every issue. We often need to go alone on the basis of our strengths but on many issues we should come together in clusters. In countries where the UN is a large part of the GDP, there will be greater coordination./
Q: Going by that, then in the Indian context, the UN’s role is limited.
A: Yes in India the UN is very small and its role here is more technical and therefore very different.
Q: Would IFAD get lost in the One UN concept or would it continue to retain its identity?
A: For IFAD this is an opportunity to remain on the path of growth. Rural poverty is still a major challenge in terms of the poverty agenda. By working together we will make a greater impact than we would individually. The strength of the UN is its diversity. In India we work together with other institutions and this adds value to our process.
Q: How effectively does IFAD engage with that part of India which is not shining?
A: It is our mandate to work with the forgotten poor and add innovative approaches to include the excluded in the development process. The fact that India is growing by 8-9 percent gives a lot of dynamism and resources and it becomes easier to generate interest in addressing the problem of poverty. If you were growing at zero percent then the focus would be else where. A rapid growth gives opportunities and shows credible ways of making use of resources for the forgotten poor.
Q: On the other hand, it could also make India complacent and in that sense diminish IFAD’s role?
A: Even on this, I have an opposite view. I see the following happening: there is a realization that there are large numbers of poor people and for reasons of equity they need to be included. And if you are growing rapidly, there is a self assuredness. This results in a willingness to open up. If you feel you are failing it is diffcult to accept advice from the outside. If you are successful in most areas, then it is easier to engage in dialogue in areas where things are not going the way they should.
Q: You have visited your projects here and met officials. What are you taking back from here and post India visit what are the messages which will emanate from Rome?
A: The problem is huge and daunting. Even a miracle recipe we will not get results overnight. But there is evidence that our initiatives which have delivered. Now the question is of upscaling them. I see an emphasis of agriculture which is very relevant to the poverty panorama. What I take back is a strong commitment from the Indian government for inclusive growth. Also is a preparedness to innovate and be flexible and find approaches which work.
In that there is an openness to learn at the state and Union level. By now we know how to reach the poor but we need to redouble our efforts, to focus on the most forgotten and the least included because they are an asset. I feel that the partnership with India is very strong. The fact that we are able to take risks, pioneer things in the most difficult areas and achieve results is a platform to build on.