Though making ‘very good progress,’ Africa still faces challenges, says UN official

9 May 2008

Africa is making “very good progress,” but must tackle challenges in areas including transportation, infrastructure and water, a senior United Nations said today, as the annual Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) is under way in New York.

Kathleen Abdalla, Officer-in-Charge of the Division for Sustainable Development, pointed to Africa’s “unprecedented growth,” with its economy growing some 6 per cent in 2005-2006 and 7 per cent last year. She also cited progress made in education, with more children attending primary school.

“But poverty remains high and there are many challenges in Africa,” she told reporters at UN Headquarters.

Ms. Abdalla noted that agriculture productivity is low, and the continent must face other issues such as land tenure, credit availability and limited access to energy.

“One of the reasons that it’s so important to deal with Africa in connection with agriculture is because a very substantial proportion of the labour force in many African countries still depends on agriculture,” David O’Connor, Chief of the Policy Integration and Analysis Branch of the Division for Sustainable Development, said.

He cited that up to 60 per cent of the labour force works in agriculture. With the young age structure of the African population and the speedy population growth, ever greater numbers of people are entering the labour force every year.

“If agriculture cannot absorb them, of course, you have a serious problem,” Mr. O’Connor observed, adding that it is extremely difficult to boost the productivity of labour with the number of people working in the agricultural sector increasing as quickly as it is.

Examples of successes in countries such as Ghana and Malawi show that “technology alone doesn’t do it. Aid certainly doesn’t do it,” according to Peter Hartmann of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria.

Speaking to reporters at the press conference, he said that a holistic approach is necessary to address challenges to agriculture in Africa.

“There will be a lot of pain right now for the short term… but we need to look forward and see how we can bring to the world a new, more stable food system given the projections of demands and population growth,” Mr. Hartmann said.


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