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Mon. June 05, 2023
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A consequential election for global food security: IFAD’s Presidential Elections


By Mumukshu Patel

The world’s largest bank dedicated to farming is undergoing an unprecedented leadership change, when global food systems are being wrecked, due to the Ukraine war, trade protectionism and climate change. 

It was the fuel and food crisis of the 1970s that led to the creation of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the largest development bank dedicated to globalagriculture. About five decades later, as we face another food and fuel crisis, we believe electing the right leader as IFAD President is downright critical for global food security.

For the first time in its history, IFAD’s President effectively resigned to lead another UN agency (ILO), creating a mid-term vacancy.  In a time of food systems disarray, a leadership vacuum at IFAD was unwarranted, and IFAD’s Governing Council needs to be commended by moving at a relatively fast pace to ensure a smooth transition.  The election is set for July 7, 2022.

IFAD’s Governing Council also needs to be commended on the transparent manner in which the elections are taking place.  The Presidential nominees have all put vision statements and their resumes on a publicly accessible platform, unlike the pre-ordained selections of some other development banks

There are four nominees with diverse backgrounds and strong grounds for staking claim to IFAD’s Presidency.  Kenya’s Raychelle Omamo is the current Cabinet Foreign Secretary (foreign minister) and former defense minister bringing substantial political clout. Spain’s Alvaro Lario is the current CFO of IFAD and has strong financial expertise. Kuwait’s Khaled Mahdi and India’s Shobhana Pattanayak both have served in the agricultural sector, in their respective governments, and bring agricultural expertise with their candidacies.

IFAD’s establishment was spearheaded by the oil producing countries of the Middle East, and they led the institution from 1977 to 2001.  Africa has led the institution since, With a brief interlude of a Swedish President. 

There is a clear trend in the organization leadership going to client countries – African agriculture is the new frontier for global food production - from Middle Eastern donor countries.  This helps IFAD gain greater legitimacy among emerging agriculture focused economies where its funding is most needed.

We believe Raychelle Omamo deserves to the be next leader of IFAD and advocate for her candidacy here.

The problem of food is a political problem.  Political will was as responsible, if not more, for ensuring greater food security in Asia and Latin America during the 1970s- the ‘Green Revolution’ era- as the technical breakthroughs in new seed varieties and farming techniques.  Leaders need to take entrenched interests head on to create the right conditions for greater food production and equitable distribution, in a sustainable manner.

The political skill set and clout that a foreign minister brings is immense: Raychelle Omamo can go straight to the foreign and finance ministers of donor and developing countries to ensure that proper funding for IFAD. More importantly, with such access, she can ensure proper coordination of all agriculture funding at the national and regional levels, to get highest impact so that there is greater food security globally, accompanied by poverty reduction given IFAD’s focus on the poorest farmers.

The next IFAD President will also need to be adept at navigating the proxy diplomatic battles being played out in the broader geopolitical order.  IFAD’s sister agency, the Food and Agirculture Organization, had a contentious US-China tussle during its last leadership transition.  There is greater tension between major powers and those tensions reflect in the Governing Councils of international agencies; IFAD is no exception.  A skilled diplomat can navigate these tensions better.

A strong candidate like Raychelle Omamo can bridge the divide among donor and developing countries in international agencies- this is difficult in the best of times, in the worst of times of geopolitical and ideological rivalries the divide grows wider. These can result in operational paralysis for the agency, and again a strong diplomat as leader would help.

We have also called on greater gender parity in global development banks so it is no surprise that we advocate for Raychelle Omamo to lead IFAD- she is able and qualified.  She would be the second woman to lead a Multilateral Development Bank (MDB) after the EBRD’s Odile Renaud-Basso, were she to be elected.  This would represent a breaking of a glass ceiling at IFAD where only men have served as President. 

Raychelle Omamo’s nomination is a step in the right direction, and we commend the African governors for selecting as their region’s candidate – a first in the history of the region.  This is particularly meaningful given the alleged gender based discrimination resignations of top deputies of IFAD in the past few years.    We hope other regions will do the same in the future for at least half of the candidates and also urge other development banks to have greater gender representation in their leadership elections.

Of course, Raychelle Omamo will need to build a strong team around her to ensure IFAD gets the best technical advice on sustainable agriculture, climate adaptation and inclusive development, particularly empowering women farmers.  She must make IFAD stronger for the cause of greater global food and nutrition security.  She must partner with others better to undertake this work more effectively.  She must rectify the decisions of the past that have resulted in loss of staff morale and reputational standing.

We hope that the Governing Council will reflect on the strong roster of IFAD Presidential candidates seriously, as they have done in the past, and pick the best candidate; to us, Raychelle Omamo appears to be the first among equals.

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