19 September 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON UNITED NATIONS UNIVERSITY-CORNELL ‘ AFRICA SERIES’

 


Jean-Marc Coicaud, Director, United Nations University (UNU) Office in New York, met with journalists at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon to discuss the “Africa Series” conferences organized jointly by UNU and New York’s Cornell University, which strongly influenced the Secretary-General’s report for the upcoming high-level meeting on Africa’s development needs.


The idea for the UNU-Cornell Africa Series emerged after the University’s scholars realizedthat a lack ofgood practical evidence was hampering the policymaking process in Africa, which lagged behind other parts of the world in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, said Mr. Coicaud.  He added that universities in Africa had been neglected as partners in the continent’s development for more than 30 years.  The Africa Series -- five symposiums on food and nutrition, the impact of HIV/AIDS, governance, the environment and higher education -- were meant to inspire workable ideas to tackle Africa’s development, to be carried out in partnership with African universities.


Joining the press conference via video link from Cornell were Patrick Stover, Director of the UNU Food and Nutrition Programme and Director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences; Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy; and David Sahn, Professor of Economics.


Mr. Stover, one of the speakers who appeared at a symposium on food and nutrition, said:  “Solutions that seem to work in the rest of the world don’t really apply, or aren’t very effective in Africa.  And we don’t know why this is.”  A partnership with UNU would allow scholars at Cornell and other universities to translate their research into practical actions to help African nations meet their Millennium Development Goals.


Mr. Sahn, an economics professor who led the symposium on the socio-economic dimension of HIV/AIDS, provided an example of where more research was needed to better inform AIDS policy.  He said approximately 25 million adults in Africa suffered from the disease, making up approximately two thirds of the world’s total number of infections.  Dramatic improvements to the quality and duration of life of nearly one quarter of Africa’s AIDS patients had been due to the use of anti-retroviral treatment.  But research showed that access to effective treatment was affecting the sexual behaviour of young men and women in a way that made them vulnerable to infection, adding to agrowing concern in the research community that improved treatment could contribute -- counter-intuitively -- to more HIV infections.


Mr. Andersen, who moderated a discussion at the symposium on food and nutrition, alluded to a similar dearth of information on the way food was farmed and produced in Africa, and how it affected human health.


“We simply know too little about that interaction.  The symposium provides very clear evidence of large gains from integrating research and policy for these two sectors, and to explore ways to enhance the impact on poor people to have a better understanding of the interaction, rather than continue to operate on two parallel tracks,” he said.


Mr. Andersen said 20 experts from Africa and elsewhere would soon produce a book on that subject, while a paper he had produced on food and nutrition issues was expected to be circulated Monday to Heads of State participating at the high-level meeting on Africa’s development.


On his hopes for the high-level meeting next week, Mr. Andersen said, leaders should identify ways to invest in public goods [such as] primary health care, infrastructure, technological change in agriculture and agri-research.  “If the symposium can help promote that kind of action, farmers will be able to escape poverty.  They will be much better equipped to respond to new price increases when they do occur, maybe 5 or 10 years from now,” he added.


Prompted by a journalist who commented on the problem of poor governance, Mr. Coicaud explained that the issue of “governance” was a permanent element of the Africa Series, because the policy topics covered by the Millennium Development Goals could not be properly addressed unless they were dovetailed with governance concepts.  A third symposium in the series had focused on good governance.


Mr. Sahm said that the symposiums addressed the lack of empirical data from Africa on which policy could be formulated.  The symposiums also helped inform the public debate, as well as the choices that Governments were expected to make.


“The partnership between UNU and Cornell taking place within the context of African concerns will have to be kept in mind by the Secretary-General and the Heads of State discussing these matters next Monday,” said Mr. Coicaud.


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For information media • not an official record