Rural development takes centre stage as UN agency heads address ECOSOC

30 June 2003

Rural development took centre stage at the annual meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Geneva today as agency heads from throughout the UN system emphasized its key role in achieving the ambitious goals set by the 2000 Millennium Summit.

Following an opening address from Secretary-General Kofi Annan in which he said the challenge was no longer deciding what to do "but rather, simply, to do it," the high-level segment of the 2003 substantive session of ECOSOC split up into four round-table discussions to discuss integrated rural development strategies.

This year's theme is "Promoting an integrated approach to rural development in developing countries for poverty eradication and sustainable development" and each roundtable dealt with a different aspect.

Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Nitin Desai, co-organizer of the round table on "natural resources and rural development in developing countries," stressed that fighting poverty meant more than looking at people's incomes but also pursuing human development. Anti-poverty programmes were not welfare programmes, but development and growth programmes aimed at increasing the potential of the poor, he added.

His co-organizer, Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, warned that at the present rate of improvement, the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) set by the 2000 Summit of halving the number of those hungry by 2015 would not be accomplished until 2050. Thus, resources needed to be allocated to address the root causes of hunger, he said.

The Executive Coordinator of the Millennium Development Goals Campaign, Eveline Herfkens, co-organizer of the round table on an "integrated approach to the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals in the area of rural development," stressed that no goal could be reached without empowering women, who were both the most vulnerable in rural areas, as well as the most effective agents for change.

Her co-organizer, James T. Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, said food and hunger were principal ingredients in addressing at least six of the eight MDGs. As well as its huge humanitarian impact, hunger also had a severe negative impact on development, he added. It was the ultimate threat to sustainable development.

The President of the International Fund for Agriculture and Development, Lennart Bage, co-organizer of the round table on "global partnerships for rural development," said development was not a one-factor solution but must encompass a holistic approach, the key to which lay in the strengthening of domestic resources and potential.

His co-organizer, Mamphela Ramphele, Managing Director of the World Bank, stressed the need to create an enabling policy environment conducive to the development of functioning markets, to promote private associations and corporations, and to empower disadvantaged groups in rural areas.

The Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Anna Tibaijuka, organizer of the round table on "rural/urban interface and slums", said that the role of cities and small towns must be included in the consideration of rural development. Although 60 per cent of people in developing countries still found themselves in rural areas, a geographical shift was underway with people moving to urban centres.

Others who addressed the Council included the Director-General of the UN Industrial Development Organization, Carlos Magarinos, who said that his agency was focusing much of its attention on rural non-farming activities, which were of crucial importance as increased investment in this area would reduce regional income disparities and fight poverty at its very source.

For her part, Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, stressed the importance of aiding women to become active stakeholders in development, noting that they needed greater access to land and water and training.

Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, said the liquidation of illicit drugs involved more than eradication and crop substitution, it needed to be carried out so as to ensure that those involved emerged from deep poverty.

Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary-General and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Africa, said that in Africa, a vast number of people were both rural and poor and rural development was one area in which the cooperation and assistance of international financial institutions needed to be strengthened.

Meanwhile Anwarul K. Chowdhury, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said effective rural development must ensure better access to education, health and social services and must empower poor people by providing them access to land, water, energy, services and markets.

In conclusion, ECOSOC President Gert Rosenthal of Guatemala said he had been struck by the large number of agencies participating in today's debate and looked forward to further widespread participation as the Council continued its current session.