ECOSOC examines global cooperation for rural development

30 April 2003 –

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) met today with UN agency chiefs and government representatives to open talks on ways the international community can launch a coordinated approach to rural development in the face of mounting crises such as food insecurity, disease and failing social services in many parts of the world.

Growing recognition that the rural areas – where 75 per cent of the world’s poor live – are key in the fight against poverty is coupled with rising levels of international assistance, said Lennart Båge, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). He added that accelerated rural development is important not only for poverty eradication but for ensuring sustained growth that could benefit society as a whole.

Today’s meeting at UN Headquarters in New York brought together ECOSOC and UN officials with development experts and national ministers to review plans for integrated rural development – particularly towards implementing the Millennium Development Goals – in preparation for the high-level segment of the Council’s annual substantive session, set to open in Geneva on 30 June.

The discussions were led by Mr. Båge, who highlighted the UN’s three-pronged plan to address the development crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. He stressed that providing support for farmers, health care systems and public institutions would address the vicious cycle in which AIDS is decimating both farmers and civil servants, sapping the ability to improve food and nutrition and to mount a public sector response.

Mr. Båge added that agriculture must be the basis for the development agenda of the poor countries, as it was normally the biggest employer and the largest export earner. He also stressed the importance of access of the rural poor to land and water, as well as to markets and credit. Appropriate technology was also important for them, as were the creation of institutions to support them.

Noting that if current trends continued, the goal of halving poverty would only be achieved by 2050 instead of 2015, Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), emphasized the need to focus on sustainable rural development. It was not possible to achieve poverty reduction targets, he said, without focusing on the 75 per cent of the population. In that regard, priority must be given to water management to create a solid basis for rural development.

For his part, Ibrahim A. Gambari, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa, focused on the role of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as a vehicle for enhancing and strengthening coherence in development cooperation in Africa. UN organizations should work together more closely by using existing country-based programming and regional level coordination mechanisms in delivery of assistance to African countries, he stressed. African governments, as well as their development partners, should build on the strong convergence of priorities between NEPAD and the Millennium Development Goals.

As part of today’s programme, a number of roundtables were convened. Hosted by United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, the discussion addressed themes of critical importance for achieving rural development. Among those leading the debates were the Executive Directors of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Obaid.

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