The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations, is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries.
Indigenous peoples make up about 5% of the world’s population but comprise about 15% of the world’s poor. They are often among the poorest population groups, and the poverty gap between indigenous and non-indigenous groups is increasing in many countries. For example, a World Bank study on selected countries in Latin America, released in May 2005, observes that the indigenous poverty gap is deeper than before and shrank more slowly over the 1990s.1 A report published in 2000 by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme finds that ethnic minority groups make up less than 9% of the total population of China but account for an estimated 40% of the country’s absolute poor. A similar study conducted by the World Bank in Viet Nam in 2004 observes that poverty in that country is increasingly associated with ethnic minority groups. A recent IFAD study concludes that the Human Development Index for various tribal belts in India is as low as that of some of the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
Unfortunately, the marginalized conditions of indigenous peoples do not figure prominently in the debates on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs). Indeed, whatever attention indigenous peoples are receiving internationally is the result of their own struggles. In a 2004 ethnic audit of the PRSPs of 14 countries, the International Labour Organization found that – despite a high incidence of poverty among indigenous peoples – these national progress reports proposed few, if any, remedial actions.2 Moreover, with few exceptions, indigenous peoples had not been included in the PRSP consultation process. There is also concern that indigenous peoples may be left out of MDG efforts in some countries unless their particular situations are adequately taken into account.3
IFAD has from its early years been very much involved in the development of indigenous peoples thanks to its targeted approach to rural development. It has so far provided a total of US$1,134 million equivalent in loans (or about 12.6% of its total loan portfolio) in support of indigenous peoples, mainly in Latin American and Asian countries. Regarding Africa, although the Fund provided several loans in support of pastoralists and other marginalized groups in the late 1980s and early 1990s, by the end of the 1990s this support had dwindled. Recently, the Fund has shown renewed interest in supporting pastoralists in northern and western Africa, and some of its ongoing projects are also helping hunters and gatherers in central and southern Africa regain their livelihoods.
IFAD-funded projects over the years have addressed the following issues of crucial importance to indigenous peoples:
3/ Annex 11 of United Nations document E/C.19/2005/2, Statement of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues Regarding Indigenous Peoples and the MDGs (paragraph 9), p.19; and United Nations document E/2005/53, United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Report on the Fourth Session, p.12.
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