Addis Ababa -- Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the United Nations Secretary General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA), completed a two-day trip to Ethiopia to support that country's efforts to make financial services more accessible to the rural poor.
She was accompanied on the visit by senior officials from the three Rome-based UN agencies focusing on food security. Together, they underscored the role that expanding financial inclusion plays in strengthening food security, as well as how food security interventions can enhance access to affordable financial services for the poor.
It is the first time the UNSGSA and the three food agencies have travelled together to focus on these issues, which are closely linked to economic growth and rural development agendas.
Travelling with the Queen on the trip were UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin; Deputy
Director-General Maria Helena Semedo of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); and, Adolfo Brizzi, Director of the Policy and Technical Advisory Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), on behalf of IFAD's President.
The delegation met with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and members of his cabinet, as well as key players in the financial inclusion sector to discuss its role in helping to improve food security in rural areas.
Queen Máxima stressed the importance of the Government of Ethiopia's moves to strengthen the financial sector and make financial services more inclusive. She noted that greater access to affordable, timely and reliable financial services such as savings, payments, credit and insurance can help low-income households enhance their food security and resilience, in addition to benefitting small business owners, smallholder farmers and other groups in terms of overall economic and rural development.
The delegation travelled to Hawassa in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) to see first-hand how FAO, IFAD and WFP, all Rome-based food security agencies, are working together with the government to make financial services more available to agricultural cooperatives and the rural poor.
They visited a school taking part in the 'Purchase from Africans to Africa' project, which is jointly implemented by the UN agencies and the Bureau of Education to improve food security and income generation activities of smallholder farmers, by using the school's food requirements to promote local food production.
They spoke with small-scale farmers about how they manage their money, and with financial service providers about how to overcome obstacles to expanding access to basic financial services in rural areas.
More than 85 percent of Ethiopia's population relies on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods, and financial inclusion enhances food security. When small-holder farmers have access to a full range of affordable financial services, including savings, loans, insurance and money transfers, they can be better prepared to withstand natural disasters or to make investments in their land to boost their productivity and income.
Poverty has declined sharply in Ethiopia over the last decade, but a third of the population remains below the poverty line, mostly in rural areas.