Repeating his call for 2008 to be the year to address the plight of the "bottom billion" - the poorest of the world's poor - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said that efforts to tackle poverty, especially in the realm of agriculture, must be stepped up.
"This must be the year the international community renews its commitment to the needs of the weak, the disadvantaged, those who have been excluded from the mainstream of global society," he said in a message to the Governing Council of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome.
Meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - especially halving poverty and hunger by 2015 - is crucial to assist the world's poorest, the Secretary-General noted.
Climate change poses challenge to development, undermining "both existing advances while threatening future gains," he observed, by disrupting agricultural production and potentially causing severe food crises.
Mr. Ban lauded the work of IFAD, the UN's rural development arm, for its work in supporting smallholder farmers and others.
"Over its 30 years IFAD has supported programmes to reduce poverty directly in rural areas, where three quarters of the world's poorest live," he said. "It has also generated many insights and models that can provide guidance to all concerned with the eradication of poverty.
The agency's head appealed for greater global investment to help the plight of the poverty-stricken, most of whom live in rural areas and depend on agriculture, to help them address the "triple scourge of poverty, climate change and rising food prices."
Speaking at the gathering attended by delegates from IFAD's 164 Member States, its President Lennart Bage emphasized that "poor rural people are often powerless but they are not irrelevant."
Poor nations' spending on agriculture has dropped dramatically over the past three decades, with development aid for the sector also falling from 18 per cent of total assistance in 1979 to less than 3 per cent in 2006.
Mr. Bage also voiced concerns about climate change, which will impact the poorest - who are least responsible for the problem - the most. "Put simply, the price of development just went up. Substantial and additional money will be needed to help poor countries adapt to climate change and make our investments 'climate-proof,'" he noted.