Terming Bangladesh a growth star n the region, Reehana Rifat Raza, the regional director of the Asia and Pacific Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), has urged Bangladesh to keep the focus on rural development.

"The rural economy is very important. You know, that's where a large share of people lives. Despite having heavy urbanization, it's not a sustainable path in some sense. And we have to look at how we make rural areas attractive economic centers," she told Dhaka Courier in an interview.

The rural areas should be made 'attractive' for economic growth to keep the people resilient to different shocks both on climate change and poverty fronts, she said.

The economist who visited Bangladesh recently, said their projects are doing very well and there is a real benefit on the ground as they do impact assessments.

She said the countries like Bangladesh which are moving towards the next level of development have a real challenge as they have a large number of populations that live in the rural areas.

"The real challenge is when the structural change happens, and it happens in all the economies as they develop. We move from agriculture to industry and to services," Raza said, emphasizing that they need to think about looking at shifting people and see how they generate the income because agriculture no longer can serve as the primary means of livelihood.

Raza, who joined IFAD in May 2022 from the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., USA, said they are looking at resilience and offering multiple means of generating incomes and helping the people live in the rural areas as climate change is a big issue there.

Small-scale farmers produce one-third of the world's food, but receive only 1.7 per cent of climate finance, according to the international financial institution and specialized United Nations agency based in Rome.

IFAD is stepping up its investments globally to build small-scale farmers' long-term resilience to climate change by dedicating 40 per cent of its core resources to climate action over the next three years, up from 35 per cent (equivalent to US$1.2 billion) over the previous three-year period.

Responding to a question on the situation in Ukraine and its impact on food prices, Raza said these are very difficult times and she thinks in difficult times, it is the poorest of the poor, who struggle the most as the inflationary impact is huge.

"I think it's going to be a huge challenge and a huge challenge for organizations like the IFAD and others who work in these economies to work with the rural poor," said the economist who visited activities implemented under IFAD's Bangladesh portfolio.

It is composed of eight ongoing projects with a total investment of US$1.25 billion that includes $475 million of IFAD financing, making Bangladesh IFAD's second-largest country programme overall.

"Bangladesh is very good at taking advantage of its allocation," said the IFAD official.

Responding to a question on Bangladesh's economic situation, she said, "I think Bangladesh is doing very well. We see that across the board in the region. I'm also from this region. We see Bangladesh as the start compared to the other countries at the moment."

Raza said there is a sort of "sustainable" growth and it is "very inclusive growth" in Bangladesh. "And I think this is the real thing to really commend the government of Bangladesh."

Responding to a question on Sri Lanka, Raza said, "I think you are the least vulnerable. I think in countries like Sri Lanka, and even in Pakistan, these are not just economic crises, but political crises as well."

Explaining why Bangladesh seems less vulnerable, she said, "You have an inclusive growth and people are seeing the real change. The challenge often is when governments can't deliver. That becomes a big problem for the governments. And then once you add a macro-economic crisis to that, it becomes very complicated."

The regional director was on a mission to Bangladesh recently, her first official visit to the region since she took up appointment on 9 May 2022.

She took the opportunity to personally praise the government of Bangladesh for pledging US$2 million to IFAD's 2022-2024 replenishment cycle.

This is the highest amount that Bangladesh has pledged during its 42-year membership to the fund.

Raza who previously served as a Senior Economist at The World Bank also commended the robust implementing capacity of national partners, which has been key to the success of the large and complex development portfolio.

IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience.

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