Summit urges farm investment
The ongoing food crisis in Africa was a major theme at the 13th African Union summit, when heads of state met in Sirte, Libya, on 1–3 July. Addressing the assembled leaders, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro noted that the international community could well afford the extra $6–7 bn in aid needed annually to expand African agriculture. That amount, she said, is “eminently feasible,” especially when compared to the hundreds of billions mobilized by the industrialized countries to counter the global economic downturn. Agriculture spending is also a good way to fight poverty, she noted, since every dollar invested in African farming can potentially create two or three times more benefits to the poor than other investments are able to generate. “A stronger agricultural sector is a prerequisite for a brighter future for Africa and its people.”
Ms. Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the African Union’s agriculture commissioner, called on member governments to process more farm products at home to generate jobs and incomes and develop integrated agricultural markets. African countries, she said, can also lessen their dependence on imported food by converting the $33 bn they spend annually to import food into rural investments instead. “We have land, water and other resources. Thus, we need to invest in agriculture for economic growth and food security.”
The meeting came on the heels of a report by the UN that the number of hungry people worldwide may exceed 1 billion by the end of the year, the most ever. A combination of climate change, the current financial meltdown and under-investment in farm productivity has pushed the cost of many basic foods beyond the means of the poor. In Africa an estimated 265 million people are now chronically malnourished, an increase of 12 per cent since the year before.
The global economic crisis makes it even more imperative for African countries to promote greater trade and investment with each other, argues the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Better regional integration has long been a goal of African leaders, notes UNCTAD’s report Economic Development in Africa 2009, released in late June, but the difficulties now confronting the continent add greater urgency to efforts to forge more links among African economies themselves.
Currently, only 9 per cent of African countries’ external trade is with other African states and just 13 per cent of inflows of foreign direct investment come from Africa, the lowest shares of regional trade and investment in the world. But there is enormous potential to increase such intra-African relations, says the report, which is sub-titled “Strengthening Regional Economic Integration for Africa’s Development.”
One of the greatest hindrances to improved trade among African countries is the poor state of the continent’s roads, railways, telecommunications and other physical infrastructure. An investment of $32 bn to improve the road network linking African countries could generate $250 bn in trade over a period of 15 years, UNCTAD estimates.
Besides generating more income, greater trade among African countries can have other development benefits, the report argues. Unlike Africa’s trade with Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, which is dominated by raw materials, trade within Africa is primarily in manufactured goods. Increasing intra-African trade can therefore help develop Africa’s manufacturing and promote greater diversification of its economies. Better transport and telecommunications and improved banking and insurance services across African borders can also strengthen investment among African countries. Africa, concludes the report, “needs to exploit opportunities within the continent which could help it achieve higher economic growth rates and development objectives.”
Ms. Helen Clark of New Zealand has been unanimously approved by the UN General Assembly as the new administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for a term of four years, following her nomination by the UN Secretary-General. Ms. Clark served her country as prime minister from 1999 to 2008 and held other high profile positions, including as minister of health and of housing. At UNDP, she replaces Mr. Kemal Dervis of Turkey.
Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as his special representative and head of the UN Peace Building Support Office in the Central African Republic (BONUCA). Ms. Zewde has had a long career in conflict resolution and mediation, including on the Central African Republic, and has been Ethiopia’s representative to the African Union Peace and Security Council, among other ambassadorial positions. Ms. Zewde, replaces François Lonseny Fall in the BONUCA post.
Ms. Marta Santos Pais of Portugal has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as his first special representative on violence against children. In addition to advisory positions on human rights and legal issues in Portugal, she was the UN rapporteur on the rights of the child in 1991–97. She joined the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1997, and since 2001 served as director of UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre in Italy.