odel Sabrina Dhowre Elba says she and husband Idris are looking forward to conversations with UK and US leaders on behalf of the word’s rural poor. They hope also to speak at the UN Food Systems Summit this year.
As Goodwill Ambassadors for the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the couple are campaigning energetically to change food systems through better investment in smallholder farms. They launched the advocacy campaigns for the IFAD Twelfth Replenishment and the IFAD Rural Poor Stimulus Facility last year, supporting farming communities that would otherwise be devastated by the impact of Covid and climate change.
Having secured support from many governments on both fronts, the couple is due to meet UK leaders in the next month, inviting them onboard as well.
“Countries and citizens are seeing the importance of IFAD and agricultural investment. We’ve been so proud to champion the fund,” Sabrina says.
“The United Kingdom has always been a leader and stepped up in so many ways. I think it will continue to do so. Many people in the UK are part of the diaspora from countries IFAD helps. I think most of our citizens would like to see the extra funding happen.
“With the US, we just heard today that President Biden made some very important executive decisions, including to reinstate the US to the Paris climate agreement. I hope they will be stepping up agricultural investments in Africa and sustainable agriculture. I genuinely think it’s a no-brainer. Countries are starting to realise that if we don’t, a lot of problems will just get worse – like migration by people pushed into poverty.
“Smallholders do hard but important work. I would like to see people opening their eyes to that. And to value the food we eat, that they provide.”
“Behind the food we’re eating are the faces and voices of the silent farmers who grow it”
Sabrina is a first-generation Somali born in Canada. “I feel like I’m the perfect example of the diaspora who have ties to the countries of these smallholders,” she says.
“These are things that I care about, inherently. A large population, in the countries pledging to IFAD, care the same way. These farmers are the solution to so many problems.
“We all need healthy food to survive. Behind the food we’re eating are the faces and voices of the silent farmers who grow it. They produce 50% of the world’s food calories.
“These are the forgotten people, the custodians of our earth. I feel very proud to consider myself a voice for people who have been forgotten or are left behind. It’s time for people to understand the importance of what they do.”
Our interview came just days after the couple had charmed French president Emmanuel Macron, securing a significant pledge from France for increased funding – to the tune of 50% over three years.
“France sent a strong message. We had an amazing conversation with President Macron,” Sabrina says, “Countries like Sweden, Germany, Norway, are also stepping up. That’s really fulfilling.”
“When we see an injustice we’ve always wanted to get involved”
Work by IFAD is dedicated to transforming rural economies and food systems. It works in the remote rural areas of developing countries, where often few aid agencies or financial institutions venture. The Elbas’ work has already helped fund greater support for 1.6 million small-scale food producers.
Sabrina admits that agriculture might not, on the face of it, seem like, “the most sexy topic… my Mum knew about IFAD though. She told me about it. Idris and I educated ourselves…
“We’ve always cared about other people. When we see an injustice we’ve always wanted to get involved.
“It’s clear that the whole system of how we produce and consume food is not sustainable. These are issues that affect us all. Every one of us is a citizen. Every one of us is a consumer. Every time we eat we are making a conscious choice about the state of the world we want to live in – and these are choices that affect the planet.
“This is about the state of our own health and wellbeing, the livelihoods of the farmers throughout the food system.
“It takes a bit of time to change the mentality of people. We need to look at more long-term solutions. Investment in agriculture is two to three times more effective at reducing poverty than anything else. And I think people are starting to recognise that. So that feels really good. I think the campaign is going great.
“IFAD is doing all the right things when it comes to the interconnectivity of the food system, biodiversity, climate change”
“Canada was the first country to pledge to the Rural Poor Stimulus Facility – I’m a Canadian so I was very proud. We’re at £88 million in funding – that’s about halfway for us.
“Me and Idris are going to continue to champion IFAD. We’re going to continue to call on world leaders to invest in our food systems and the most vulnerable farmers. A lot of developing countries, African countries, have already doubled their budget.
“These are countries that don’t have as much. To see them doubling their budgets is a significant sign to the rest of the world that they know agriculture is vital.
“IFAD is doing all the right things when it comes to the interconnectivity of the food systems, biodiversity, climate change – the issues you are passionate about at Quota.”