Press Releases

    ECOSOC/6121
                                                                            2 July 2004

    Rural, Agricultural Development Central to Meeting Global Anti-Poverty Goals, Economic and Social Council Told

    Council Begins Coordination Segment of Current Session

    NEW YORK, 1 July (UN Headquarters) -- The Economic and Social Council suspended its high-level segment and began its coordination segment today, as consultations continued on the declaration intended to cap the ministerial-level debate of 28 to 30 June on the theme of resource mobilization and creation of an enabling environment for poverty eradication in the least developed countries (LDCs).

    Scheduled to last through 7 July, this segment will focus on two themes: “Coordinated and integrated United Nations system approach to promote rural development in developing countries, with due consideration to LDCs, for poverty eradication and sustainable development”; and “Review and appraisal of the system-wide implementation of the Council’s agreed conclusions 1997/2 on mainstreaming the gender perspective into all policies and programmes in the United Nations system”.

    Participants in today’s debate addressed the means of achieving greater coherence in rural development, poverty eradication and sustainable development efforts, with most speakers agreeing on the need to place rural and agricultural development at the centre of poverty-alleviation activities. In particular, it was pointed out that, to work out an integrated approach, it was necessary to remove the obstacles that prevented the rural poor from improving their livelihoods. It was also necessary to foster more peaceful, equitable and open societies based on greater transparency, accountability and decentralization.

    The theme of rural development follows up on the deliberations of last year’s high-level segment, whose Ministerial Declaration stressed that eradication of rural poverty and hunger was crucial for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration. The marriage between last year’s high-level segment and this year’s coordination segment had been made in heaven, Guatemala’s representative said, stressing rural development was at the centre of development efforts of many developing countries.

    In that connection, most speakers stressed the Council’s coordinating role, saying that it needed to reinforce synergies between the United Nations system and other international structures, such as the Bretton Woods institutions, regional financial institutions and civil society. Also emphasized in the debate was the need to strengthen the Council’s ties with other key United Nations bodies, including the General Assembly.

    Introducing the report of the Secretary-General on the coordinated and integrated promotion of rural development, the Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Patrizio Civili, said that the recognition of the critical importance of the eradication of poverty in rural areas -- where more that two thirds of the poor lived -- for the implementation of international development goals “had not necessarily” placed the issue as a priority on the international agenda.

    There was a clear trend, however, towards enhanced inter-agency cooperation, he observed. United Nations agencies were increasingly pursuing farmers’ education, access to financial services and implementation of environmental conventions. Such initiatives as the common country assessment and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) were helping the Organization to identify how international development partners could best support national efforts. Deliberate efforts had been made to enhance policy coherence for rural development with the Bretton Woods institutions.

    The United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island States, Anwarul K. Chowdhury, recalled that the Brussels Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries had emphasized the key role of agriculture and agro-industries, as well as rural development and food security, in development processes and provided the United Nations with a guiding framework for coordinating support to LDCs.

    Pointing out the need to enhance synergy and eliminate duplication, he also noted the fact that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) -- the agencies which conducted the bulk of United Nations activities for rural development -- had adopted several resolutions aimed at mainstreaming implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action into their activities. Commodity-dependent LDCs would also benefit from the establishment of the International Task Force on Commodities, which the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) had assembled to promote a multi-stakeholder approach.

    China’s representative said that, aside from formulating integrated rural development strategies, the United Nations needed to foster dialogue and cooperation among developing countries, in order to increase South-South cooperation, including in the areas of micro-credit and capacity building.

    Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the representative of the Netherlands pointed out that an integrated approach should address more than agriculture alone. Action was required in several sectors, including health, education and infrastructure building. It was necessary to obtain synergy with urban development and address the problem of HIV/AIDS. Of paramount importance was promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.

    Switzerland stressed the importance of an integrated United Nations approach at the country level, which went hand in hand with a quality-field presence. While not all United Nations entities were represented at the country level, in many countries regional offices ensured a presence at crucial moments of system-wide coordination. The role of regional commissions should also be strengthened, as they served as a platform for information exchange and best practices.

    Also participating in the debate were representatives of Qatar (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Russian Federation, Bangladesh, Republic of Korea, Jamaica, Ecuador, Ukraine, Madagascar, Indonesia, Norway, United States, Tunisia and Nepal.

    Speaking on behalf of international agencies were representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), FAO, IFAD, WFP, World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO). A statement was also made by a representative of a non-governmental organization, Oasis Open City Foundation.

    Various aspects of coordinating rural development efforts were also explored in the afternoon panel discussion on the theme of “Working Together to Promote Integrated Rural Development in Developing Countries, particularly in LDCs”. Its participants stressed the importance of improving coherence of United Nations policies and activities in that regard and pondered the means of improving the Organization’s contribution to the integrated approach, in collaboration with developing countries, the donor community and other stakeholders.

    The interactive session was launched by the panel consisting of the Vice-Minister of Agriculture of Madagascar, Marius Ratolojanahary; Administrator of the UNDP, Mark Malloch Brown; Director of the Division of External Relations, Department of Policy and External Affairs of the WFP, Allan Jury; Deputy Director-General of FAO, David Harcharik; and the representative of IFAD, Vera Weill-Halle.

    The Council will continue its coordination segment at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 2 July.

    Background

    The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) was scheduled to begin its coordination segment this morning, and had before it the Secretary-General’s report (document E/2004/58), analysing the role of the United Nations system in promoting a coordinated and integrated approach to rural development.  The document builds on the outcome of last year’s high-level segment of the Council on rural development, giving due consideration to the least developed countries (LDCs) and, in particular, to the Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010. 

    The report makes concrete proposals on how to improve policy coherence at the international, regional and country levels, emphasizing, first and foremost, the need to elaborate a coherent strategy, which would integrate various dimensions of rural development and development goals.  It also calls for development of partnerships among governments, bilateral agencies, international and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, academic institutions and community-based organizations and cooperatives in the pursuit of rural development, including through the United Nations Public-Private Alliance for Rural Development.

    The document also promotes a clear division of labour among various organizations, emphasizing the need to provide the United Nations system with sufficient resources to promote integrated rural development, including through enhanced flows of official development assistance (ODA) dedicated to that purpose. Another core element of this approach is promotion of regional cooperation with a strengthened focus on rural development in poverty-reduction strategies. Among the document’s recommendations is a suggestion that regional commissions should also explore possibilities for interregional cooperation, particularly for sharing best practices.

    Also addressed in the report is the need to further promote South-South and triangular cooperation; empower rural women; and ensure access to rural finance.  Countries should recognize the crucial importance of employment, which should be mainstreamed into investment policy and poverty-reduction strategies. The Secretary-General adds that it is important to promote advocacy and partnerships for education of rural people by concentrating on strategic global, regional and international events, which should also be encouraged within the countries.

    Statements

    The Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, PATRIZIO CIVILI, presenting the report of the Secretary-General on the coordinated and integrated promotion of rural development, noted that, while the eradication of poverty from rural areas -- where more that two thirds of the poor lived -- had been recognized as critical to the realization of internationally agreed development goals, that recognition had not necessarily translated into the issue receiving the deserved attention and priority in the international agenda. Thus, the report presented an overview of how, within the broader international community, United Nations system organizations were pursuing implementation of the ECOSOC’s Ministerial Declaration on rural development and made concrete proposals on how to pursue a coordinated and integrated approach to rural development at the international, regional and national levels.

    Among its main aspects, the report bore witness to a clear trend towards enhanced inter-agency cooperation, he observed. United Nations agencies had launched and were actively pursuing initiatives to promote farmers’ education, enhance access to financial services, and facilitate the implementation of environmental conventions focused on education in rural areas. Integrated approaches to rural development had increasingly become key aspects of the system’s operational activities, with the common country assessment and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) providing the vehicle for identifying how international development partners could best support national efforts in that area.

    Deliberate efforts had been made to enhance policy coherence for rural development, he added, including with the Bretton Woods institutions. Particular attention had been devoted to ensuring that strategies for agricultural and rural development were incorporated into national poverty-reduction strategies. Moreover, there had been renewed efforts to support and promote regional initiatives for integrated rural development. The report highlighted the key role regional commissions, development banks and financial institutions should play and noted the importance of South-South cooperation in advancing the integrated approaches required for rural development.

    Finally, he said, the importance of agriculture in the case of LDCs could not be overemphasized, as it underpinned food security, foreign exchange earnings and agro-industrial and rural development. Partnerships bringing together economic, financial, social and environmental actors to advance the integrated approaches being sought should be formed.  In particular, triangular United Nations public-private partnerships, such as the “United Nations Public-Private Alliance for Rural Development”, needed to be given a more prominent role in United Nations development assistance. That programme, whose pilot phase concentrated on Madagascar, attempted to reconcile the profit motives of the private sector with national rural development objectives, in the context of internationally agreed development goals.

    The United Nations Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island States, ANWARUL K. CHOWDHURY, stressed that agriculture and rural development were absolutely essential for development of the world’s most impoverished countries, as the majority of the nearly 750 million people living in LDCs occupied rural areas.  Economic growth, poverty reduction and food and nutritional security in most LDCs would remain elusive so long as agriculture and rural development did not receive priority attention. Thus, the Secretary-General had identified rural development as a “precondition for the reduction of extreme poverty and hunger”.

    The importance of rural development had been recognized in many international forums, he noted, where the need to create an enabling environment for rural development and poverty eradication had been highlighted. The ECOSOC, as the central mechanism for the coordination of United Nations system activities, had, therefore, decided to schedule consideration of coordination issues related to rural development, in particular for LDCs, shortly after the adoption of its 2003 Ministerial Declaration.

    The Brussels Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries had emphasized the key role of agriculture and agro-industries, as well as rural development and food security, in development processes, he added, and had provided the United Nations with a guiding framework for coordinating support to LDCs. Identification of what was being done and what should be done by United Nations system bodies at both the international and national levels to promote rural development in LDCs would enhance synergy and eliminate duplication.

    To that end, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) -- which agencies conducted the bulk of United Nations activities for rural development -- had enhanced coordination by defining a global agenda for rural development, he stated. Of particular importance to LDCs, the governing bodies of the three agencies had adopted several resolutions aimed at mainstreaming implementation of the Brussels Programme of Action into their activities. Commodity-dependent LDCs would also benefit from the establishment of the International Task Force on Commodities, he said, which the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) had assembled to promote a multi-stakeholder approach and forge a global coalition, including with the Bretton Woods institutions.

    Also noting that partnerships with civil society and the private sector were increasingly an integral part of many activities undertaken by the United Nations at the country level, he stressed the role to be played by microcredit and microfinance in poverty eradication and rural development in LDCs.  The United Nations system must give further impetus to that area to close the gap in rural gender inequalities.  It should also do more to support South-South cooperation.

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