Despite their own problems with agricultural development, the Arab countries are also deeply involved in the world's efforts to help other countries feed themselves. In 1974 the Arab oil countries, along with other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), proposed the establishment of an international fund to help finance food production in the world's most needy nations. More to the point, the Arabs, once the proposal was accepted, also contributed nearly one-quarter of the new fund's initial $1 billion in operating capital.
Established on December 13, 1977, as the 13th specialized agency of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) was a milestone in the history of the world body. It confounded cynics who believed rich and poor nations could never bury their differences and join together in a unique, common endeavor - and it proved that countries can work together in a spirit of practical charity. As Abdelmuhsin al-Sudeary, the organization's first president, said, "IFAD is the clearest indication so far that the international community is moving towards a new world economic order based on the ideals and spirit of cooperation."
In a sense al-Sudeary himself provides an example of that spirit of cooperation. A Saudi Arab, al-Sudeary represents a country that could have been classified as a needy nation itself 20 years ago. Yet today it is in the forefront of the movement to head off world famine. Al-Sudeary furthermore, is particularly qualified for the pivotal post he now holds. Although he refers to himself as simply a "farmer's son," al-Sudeary was trained in agronomy at Colorado State and Arizona Universities in the United States, held various posts in Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Agriculture and Water in Riyadh, and served as the kingdom's permanent representative to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome since 1972.
He was, therefore, a logical choice for chairman of the preparatory commission of IFAD in 1976 when the world discovered the "food crisis" and Saudi Arabia decided to put its financial muscle behind an attempt to avert it. Having demonstrated his effective leadership in successful conclusion of the important tasks entrusted to him, he was unanimously elected president of IFAD at the first meeting of the Fund's governing council in Rome.
Although a Saudi Arab, al-Sudeary does not identify IFAD's work specifically with the Arab East From the presidency of IFAD, he says, Arab contributions to the world's food and farming problems must be regarded as international, not regional. Nevertheless, his interview with correspondent John Lawton was important. In broadening the perspective of this issue of Aramco World, it underlined the fact that Arab efforts to improve agriculture are not limited to themselves nor to their own countries. — The Editors
Interviewer: How was IFAD formed?
Al-Sudeary: It was formed on the initiative of the OPEC countries during the World Food Conference in Rome in November, 1974, in the wake of an international food crisis. The initiative was endorsed by the developed nations and creation of the Fund was one of the major recommendations of the Conference. A preparatory commission worked three years to get the Fund operational and it was formally launched- at a meeting of its 91 founder-members in December, 1972.
Interviewer: Why was the Fund established?
Al-Sudeary: The World Food Conference marked a new turn in thinking on the world food problem. The Conference recognized that the problems of food and nutrition were not just the result of occasional crop failures but reflected a deep-seated phenomenon with its roots in the whole issue of development and poverty. Unless the poorest segments of rural society have more employment opportunities and larger incomes, they will remain hungry and malnourished. This philosophy is clearly reflected in the objectives of IFAD.
Interviewer: What are those objectives?
Al-Sudeary: IFAD will concentrate simultaneously on increasing food production while reducing rural poverty and hunger in the poorest food-deficit countries and other developing nations. It will focus on the poorest nations and on the poorest sections of the rural population. The main aim of the Fund's operations will be to liberate the productive skills and energies of the rural people. Very often small farmers, given adequate support, can obtain levels of productivity similar to larger farmers. IFAD will also try to set a new and livelier pace in international lending operations.
Interviewer: What type of projects will IFAD finance?
Al-Sudeary: The Fund will especially welcome projects that have a strong food production orientation, foster the use of appropriate technologies, generate considerable employment and have a direct impact on the nutrition of the poorest. IFAD will concentrate on activities that are directed to solving the critical problems or constraints that impede rural development. Its main target groups for financial assistance will be the small and landless farmers. We expect to finance or co-finance a total of 15 projects in the poorest food-deficit countries and other developing nations during our first 12 months of operations.
Interviewer: How will IFAD's resources be made available?
Al-Sudeary: IFAD is empowered to make both grants and loans. Grants are limited to 12.5 percent of the resources committed in any one financial year and the bulk of IFAD's resources will be made available in loans. These will be of three types: concessional, at one percent rate of interest, intermediate, at four percent, and ordinary loans at eight percent per annum. The largest number of IFAD's operations is likely to fall into the concessional category and the largest portion of the Fund's resources will be lent to the poorest developing countries.
Interviewer: How much does IFAD have at its disposal?
Al-Sudeary: The initial resources available to the Fund are slightly more than one billion dollars: $567.3 million contributed by developed countries, $435.5 million by OPEC countries and $19.3 million by developing countries. But the Fund is more than just a pool of money. Institutions, like people, tend to be products of their times. IFAD was born in the questioning seventies, and reflects a new approach to problems of food production and distribution. With its focus on the rural poor and its unprecedented governing structure, IFAD is the first institutional embodiment of the spirit of the new international economic order.
Interviewer: What is unique about IFAD?
Al-Sudeary: IFAD is a new kind of institution in the United Nations system and the governing bodies which will supervise its operations represent an innovative formula bringing together the interests of both developed and developing countries. In most financial agencies the voting rights are generally weighed in favor of donors. In IFAD the donors - i.e. OPEC and the developed countries - and the developing nations - ie. OPEC and the developing recipient countries - will both have a two-thirds majority, since an equal block of voting power will be exercised by each of the three groups. Additionally the Fund's staff will not exceed 100, an experiment in the U.N. which might prove that bureaucracy can be conquered.