YOKOHAMA, JAPAN — The three leaders of the Rome-based United Nations agencies on June 1 called for food security and nutrition to be placed at the center of the international agenda for African development. Special attention should be given to supporting smallholder farmers to improve global food security and empowering rural women, addressing gender inequalities and enabling them to transform their own lives and the lives of their families and communities.

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) José Graziano da Silva, the President of the International Fund for Agricultural development (IFAD) Kanayo Nwanze, and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) Ertharin Cousin, were speaking at the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) in Yokohama.

The three agency leaders said that the most effective key to reversing hunger and poverty in developing countries lay in responsible investment by governments and the private sector in sustainable agricultural and rural development, noting that in sub-Saharan Africa, GDP growth generated by agriculture had been shown to be eleven times more effective in reducing poverty than GDP growth in other sectors. They stressed that it is time to invest in the critical agents of change: small producers and their organizations, family farmers, fishers, livestock keepers, forest users, rural workers, entrepreneurs and indigenous people.

The agency heads commended countries that had made strong efforts to reduce hunger within their boundaries and on the African continent in general, and indicated that the discussions at TICAD would help inform the high-level meeting scheduled June 30 and July 1 in Addis Ababa, co-organized by the African Union and FAO and supported by the Lula Institute. WFP, IFAD and other development partners will also participate in this event.

They agreed that hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty should remain at the core of the post-2015 agenda, following the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, and expressed confidence that the world could overcome the twin scourges of poverty and hunger within a generation.

However, they issued a warning that this will not be achieved unless we address the underlying causes of gender inequality and lift the barriers to the empowerment of women - the main producers, processors and traders of food in Africa, despite the fact that 85% of agricultural land is owned by men.

The Rome-based agencies will deliver joint statements to three of the five thematic sessions of TICAD V tomorrow, covering Strengthening Sectorial Bases for Growth; Toward the Post-2015 Development Agenda; and Gender Equality: Advancing the Empowerment of Women.