As the annual meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council got under way today in Geneva, Secretary-General told the opening session that in the wake of recent world trade and development conferences which have defined the path to erasing poverty, especially in rural areas, the challenge now "is not to decide what to do, but rather, simply, to do it."
The developed world must open its doors to agricultural products from developing countries "unimpeded by direct or disguised barriers such as subsidies," and aid must be increased if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of halving poverty by 2015 are to be achieved, Mr. Annan said in his address to the high-level segment of the 2003 substantive session of ECOSOC, as the UN's central body for development policy is known. This year, the high-level segment focuses on the theme of rural development.
"I urge all donors to keep an open mind and, again, to act on the basis of the interests that are shared by all," the Secretary-General said, adding that in the face of a slow world economy, "our immediate, over-riding task must be to stimulate economic growth." However, referring to recent UN trade and development conferences, he warned: "We cannot afford to lose sight of the agenda, universally agreed at Doha, Monterrey and Johannesburg, to tackle more fundamental development challenges."
The Doha programme especially aims to eliminate unfair competition faced by farmers and producers in poor countries and to give poor people better access to life-saving medicines. This, the Secretary-General said, could facilitate the attainment of the MDGs, a list of targets drawn up in 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit to combat poverty, hunger, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women and to be achieved by 2015.
Turning to the meeting's theme - "Promoting an integrated approach to rural development in developing countries for poverty eradication and sustainable development" - Mr. Annan said: "If there is one place where all these concerns come together, where the needs are greatest and the suffering most acute, and which can be called the locus of global poverty, it is the world's rural areas."
Noting that three quarters of the world's poorest people - those living on less than $1 a day - live in rural areas, with 900 million people drawing their meagre livelihood from agriculture and other rural activities, he added: "They are on the frontlines of drought, desertification and environmental degradation. They are the farmers - women above all - whose hard labour is undermined by protectionism, meagre infrastructure and, increasingly, the spread of AIDS. They are the indigenous people, herders, artisans, fisherfolk and others, whose struggles in isolated areas all too seldom capture world attention."
Rural development entails more investment in agricultural research to develop higher yield crops, the Secretary-General added. It requires efficient water management, involves increasing non-farm employment so that the rural poor are less vulnerable to crop failures and means secure land tenure, land reform and a green revolution for more productive farming.
"Nowhere will our commitment be put to the test more than in Africa, where food insecurity and AIDS are working in vicious tandem to thwart the continent's rural development," he declared.