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Delegates Discuss Efforts to End Poverty amid Rising Inequality, Unprecedented Human Displacement, as Social Development Commission Continues Session

Delegates from around the world shared their experiences in combating poverty against the backdrop of both long‑standing and emerging challenges — including an unprecedented global displacement crisis, protracted conflicts and a rising tide of intolerance — as the Commission for Social Development continued its fifty‑sixth annual session today.

Speakers also cited economic sanctions, lack of adequate support from development partners and a slow recovery from the past decade’s financial crisis as major obstacles to poverty eradication.  Some pointed to rising inequality as another crucial impediment, calling for more progressive policies to distribute wealth, while others emphasized the need to focus on key groups such as women and youth.

With the discussion focused squarely on the drivers of — and possible antidotes to — poverty, South Africa’s Chief Director for Economic Development recalled former President Nelson Mandela’s belief that extreme poverty “demeans us all”.  Young people in South Africa continued to lack employment opportunities, she said, while the current global climate was driving increased discrimination based on race, national origins and other factors.  In response to such challenges, the Government was working to boost job creation, realize the goal of free education for all and ensure the rights of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities and older persons.

Spotlighting another vulnerable — and particularly critical — group, Zimbabwe’s Minister for Labour and Social Welfare said women comprised 80 per cent of her country’s agricultural workforce as well as 60 per cent of its informal employment sector.  Outlining concrete plans in such areas as employment creation, social protection and inclusive development, she said a national strategy now also reserved a 20 per cent quota for women’s ownership of agricultural land.

Denmark’s Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation echoed the importance of focusing anti‑poverty initiatives on women, noting that their increased engagement and productivity would also benefit entire societies.  Calling for special attention to those living in protracted displacement or in countries affected by conflict and crisis — 50 per cent of whom still lived in extreme poverty — she also emphasized that eradicating poverty required a sustained, long‑term development effort.  For that reason, Denmark had delivered on the target of providing 0.7 per cent of its gross national income as official development assistance (ODA) for 40 years, and encouraged other countries to do the same.

Many speakers, including the Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, voiced support for efforts to provide both universal health care and social services to all.  Despite the ongoing financial crisis and unilateral sanctions, he said, the Russian Federation had offered a wide array of services, including new measures targeting families and children in need and raising the national minimum wage across a range of professions.  Other strategic development projects spanned sectors such as health, education, labour and transportation, and efforts were under way to support entrepreneurs and train workers in the latest technologies.

Echoing those sentiments, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus warned against selfish, politically motivated and unilateral steps, such as destructive sanctions, which had detrimental consequences to countries who sought development gains.  Describing his country’s efforts to guarantee employment and decent work for all, he added that combating poverty required a global approach, and encouraged the international community to assist in creating a “more just world” for humankind.

Several speakers, including the General Director of Youth for the Ministry of Social Development of Uruguay, focused on progressive efforts to redistribute wealth more fairly.  Noting that his country enjoyed the largest gross domestic product (GDP) in Latin America and had dramatically reduced its poverty rate, he said the Government had established a minimum wage, made health care a universal right, put in place a system of cash transfers for vulnerable families and enhanced access to jobs.  Stressing that no sustainable social development or economic growth could be accomplished without a more equal distribution of wealth, he also described Uruguay’s recent strides in such areas as marriage equality and the protection of reproductive and sexual rights.

During its afternoon session, the Commission held a high‑level panel discussion on the theme, “Towards sustainable and resilient societies:  Innovation and interconnectivity for social development”.  Moderated by Jeremy Millard, Chief Policy Advisor, Danish Technological Institute, of Denmark, it featured five panellists:  Gong Sen, Research Fellow of the Development Research Centre of the State Council and Executive Vice‑President of the China Centre for International Knowledge on Development; Noor Al Malki Al Jehani, Executive Director of the Doha International Family Institute; Walter Valdivia, Senior Fellow to the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, a science policy think tank at Arizona State University, adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University, and a senior policy editor at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University; Maria Garrido, Research Assistant Professor and principal research scientist at the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington; and Donna Scheeder, President from 2015 to 2017 of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

Also delivering statements today were ministers, representatives and youth delegates from Niger, Congo, Chile, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Hungary, Sudan, Thailand, Mexico, Georgia, Israel, Switzerland, Kenya, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Namibia.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 31 January, to continue its work.

Statements

PETRONELLA KAGONYE, Minister for Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe, associating herself with the statements delivered on Monday on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the African Group, said her country had integrated the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals into its “Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socioeconomic Transformation”.  That plan addressed such issues as employment creation, poverty reduction, social protection and inclusive development, she said, noting that the majority of women in Zimbabwe were employed in the agricultural sector where they comprised 80 per cent of the workforce and 60 per cent of the 5.4 million people in the informal sector.  National strategies had reserved a 20 per cent quota for women entitled to apply for ownership of agricultural land, while others focused on the special needs of young people and prioritized education, leading to the achievement of gender parity in primary school enrolment rates and high literacy rates.  Still other programmes targeted the needs of populations including persons with disabilities, the elderly, and orphaned and vulnerable children.

AMADOU AISSATA ISSA MAIGA, Minister for Population of Niger, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said her country had put in place several strategies to combat poverty and strengthen its population’s well‑being.  Its main framework for action aimed to see all men and women, especially the most vulnerable, benefit from basic services.  It also sought to boost women’s land ownership and offered a holistic vision of social protection and the provision of emergency humanitarian assistance where needed.  Niger had also passed laws to ensure equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and which enshrined their basic rights to employment, social services and freedom from discrimination.  “We must make the issue of disability a priority,” she stressed, citing concrete progress achieved since Niger’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, such as improved accessibility to public buildings and widespread awareness‑raising campaigns.  Social protection for older persons had also been enshrined in the country’s laws, ensuring their access to medical care and establishing a national solidarity office to address relevant issues.  As a result of those and other initiatives, poverty in Niger had fallen by 2.8 per cent between 2011 and 2014, she said.

ANTOINETTE DINGA‑DZONDO, Minister for Social Affairs of Congo, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said poverty‑targeted efforts were particularly important, especially for vulnerable groups.  Poverty affected half of Congo’s 4 million citizens, of whom 60 per cent were under age 30, almost 5 per cent were older persons and 1.4 per cent were living with disabilities.  Government programmes aimed at addressing various needs by expanding social protection services.  Projects targeted special needs, including cash transfers and job creation efforts, and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) initiative was making further steps such as boosting the digital economy, yet challenges remained, such as streamlining budgets and coordination.

JUAN EDUARDO FAÚNDEZ MOLINA, Vice‑Minister for Social Development of Chile, said poverty and violence were social obstacles to most societies, with international organizations playing a central role in efforts to address those challenges.  Highlighting the multidimensional nature of poverty, he said many aspects must be addressed simultaneously, including health, housing and religious life.  Chile was changing its methodology for measuring poverty, having submitted relevant reports to the United Nations.  It strongly supported the 2030 Agenda.  More detailed data had painted a clearer national picture of needs, from political participation to social protection gaps.  The new socially democratic Government was poised to promote a range of social issues, including education, women’s rights and shaping a new Constitution for the twenty‑first century.  Such efforts aimed at redirecting society towards a more humane and sustainable one.

ALEXEY CHERKASOV, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, expressed support for poverty reduction, as everyone should be covered by health and social services.  Despite the ongoing financial crisis and unilateral sanctions, the Russian Federation had offered a wide array of services, including new measures targeting families and children in need and raising the national minimum wage across a range of professions.  Strategic development projects spanned sectors such as health, education, labour, transportation and support for entrepreneurship.  Special efforts were, among other things, reaching those in remote areas and training workers in the latest technologies.  Turning to the work of the Commission, he said it had played a leading role in providing agreed upon guidance with regard to many issues, including youth, persons with disabilities and the role families could play.

EDI SUHARTO, Vice Minister for Social Services of Indonesia, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the Sustainable Development Goals had provided a universal and global agenda, but now a comprehensive approach was needed to achieve those targets by 2030.  Indonesia had taken a number of steps towards those goals, for instance, with efforts aimed at cutting poverty to 7 per cent by 2019 from 10.7 per cent in 2016, and primary school enrolment having already climbed to more than 95 per cent.  Empowerment was key to development, including enhancing health and education sectors while reducing unemployment, but challenges remained.  While poverty was decreasing in Indonesia, the heart of the problem was its chronic cycle that must be broken.  Ensuring inclusive development was the way forward, he said, calling on stakeholders to find innovative strategies to make the 2030 Agenda succeed.

TAMADER ALRAMMAH, Deputy Minister for Direct Localization and General Director of Social Welfare and Family of Saudi Arabia, associating herself with the Group of 77, said anti‑poverty policies should be tailored to the specific cultural contexts of individual countries.  However, some elements were common to all nations, she said, describing Saudi Arabia’s own national programmes.  Those included a range of new social transformations aimed at empowering people, strengthening the participation of women in the workforce, bolstering food security, enacting new economic reforms and providing social protection to all.  Saudi Arabia was working to make social assistance available to persons with disabilities and their families, putting in place a national plan to that effect.  In addition, strategies had been enacted to protect the elderly and meet their special needs, including through the establishment of 38 centres for older persons throughout the country, the provision of stipends and the launch of a detailed study on their well‑being.  Efforts were also under way to promote education, including through the provision of scholarships, she said.

KAREN ELLEMANN, Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation of Denmark, spotlighted four issues her country viewed as critical to eradicating poverty by 2030.  First was the need to build strong partnerships, including between Governments, the private sector, academia and civil society, all of which needed to work together to ensure that efforts were directed towards common goals for people, planet and prosperity.  Second, eradicating poverty required a sustained, long‑term development effort, she said, noting that Denmark had delivered on the United Nations target of providing 0.7 per cent of its gross national income as official development assistance (ODA) for 40 years in a row, and encouraging other countries to do the same.  Third, there was a need to focus on gender equality and young people, especially young women, she said, noting that their increased engagement and productivity would benefit not only them but also their countries as a whole.  Finally, it was critical to pay special attention to those living in protracted displacement or in countries affected by conflict and crisis, 50 per cent of whom still lived in extreme poverty.

GABRIELA AGOSTO, Executive Secretary of the National Council for the Coordination of Social Policies of Argentina, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the statement delivered yesterday on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said some challenges — including climate change, migration and poverty — were facing all countries of the world.  The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals were leading global efforts to confront such issues, she said, noting that Argentina was also working on a national level to guarantee quality social services, universal health care and education to all.  Among other things, the country guaranteed a basic income floor to its people and was working to expand its family allowance policy, while also adjusting the allowances provided to pensioners in order to improve the quality of life of older persons.  A national habitat plan was working with local and provincial governments to enhance access to water, sanitation, lit sidewalks and other important infrastructure.  Another critical pillar of the Government’s work dealt with education, including the provision of early education to all children, accessible from the time they were 45 days old.  That plan provided support to families, she said, noting that it helped with food security and allowed new parents to return to work.

KATALIN ANNAMÁRIA BOGYAY (Hungary) said a steady population decline had led the Government to introduce several measures since 2010.  From childcare benefits to decent work — seen in robust school attendance and an unemployment rate of less than 4 per cent — Hungary was focusing on further reaching those in need.  Free services, including meals and textbooks in schools and childcare for working parents, were among ongoing initiatives.  For those in need, affordable summer camp was accessible and subsidized housing available.  By working and establishing financial health, development goals could be successfully attained.

ZSOFIA RACZ, youth delegate from Hungary, said all countries faced different challenges.  For her country, challenges involving an ageing population must be addressed and future generations must have the tools to continue the brilliant work of the United Nations.  Ensuring youth participation was a priority and young people must be empowered, she said, highlighting the importance of the “zero step” in light of a declining population.

IBRAHIM ADAM IBRAHIM MOHAMED, State Minister at the Ministry of Welfare and Social Security of Sudan, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, provided a snapshot of his country’s national plan.  With 17 target areas such as youth employment, education, health and sanitation, Sudan aimed at broadening the reach of services to the most vulnerable.  Expanded programme areas included providing clean drinking water and long‑term security.  A strategy to develop microfinancing structures was supporting social projects for the full employment of youth and for strengthening institutions to combat poverty.  Sudan had also launched a social census to determine further needs and priorities.  Pursuant to the Secretary‑General’s report, what Sudan had achieved was enormous.  Drawing attention to the scourge of conflict as a driver for poverty, he said war created persons with disabilities and destroyed communities.  As such, conflict‑related issues must be duly addressed.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, said establishing equal opportunity was the only way to eradicate poverty.  Belarus had focused efforts on guaranteeing employment and decent work for all, alongside initiatives to gather disaggregated data to better inform future projects.  Successfully combating poverty required a global approach, one that considered donor and recipient countries and their respective efforts to achieve sustainable development.  The international community could also assist in the progress of humankind in a more just world.  Countries must refrain from taking selfish politically motivated and unilateral steps, such as destructive sanctions, which had detrimental consequences to countries who sought development gains.  Instead, partnerships must be fostered, he said, adding that Belarus would soon host a forum on development cooperation.

PUTTIPAT LERTCHAOWASIT, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development of Thailand, associating himself with ASEAN and the Group of 77, said that poverty eradication had always been the basis for Thailand’s development since the time of the late King Bhumibol’s reign from the mid‑1940s.  The 20‑year national strategy framework and twelfth national socioeconomic development plan articulated visions for structural transformation to address inequality in a comprehensive manner, and focused on implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Starting in 2002, Thailand’s universal health coverage scheme made access to basic health care an entitlement for all, including documented and undocumented migrants and their families.  Basic education for all, regardless of nationality, was also accessible in Thailand.  As poverty could have more negative effects on women, the Government had given particular attention to that area.  It was urgent that a strong commitment to sustainable development be translated into concrete actions.

OLIVER ARROYO, Director General for Evaluation and Monitoring of Social Programs of Mexico, said a five‑year national strategy was under way, part of efforts to enhance progress on attaining the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda.  Actions had been guided by two main elements — the multidimensional nature of poverty and a policy of inclusion.  Food, education, health and social security were among the action areas, he said, providing examples of how the Government was making gains in breaking the cycle of poverty.  Among gains, a labour reform in 2012 had created 3.5 million formal jobs, and chronic child malnutrition had been reduced.  Quality education was also a priority.  Meanwhile, other projects focused on pension payments, particularly for women, and other social protection measures.  Reviewing working methods of the Commission should be considered alongside the transformation of its mandate so it could remain a pillar of development at the United Nations.

SOPIO KILADZE, Chairperson of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee of the Parliament of Georgia, stressing that “poverty has deep roots and many faces”, said the phenomenon’s manifestation depended on circumstances that differed from country to country.  In Georgia, the Government had fundamentally reformed its human rights protection system — especially with regard to civil and political rights — but poverty remained a major related challenge.  About 21 per cent of the population lived in poverty, she said, adding that children, youth, elderly persons and other vulnerable groups were among those affected.  Two main policies, namely Georgia 2020 and the global 2030 Agenda, were driving the Government’s efforts to combat poverty.  Among other things, Georgia had implemented its Social Worker Institution Reform Plan, drafted a legal child code to ensure the dignity of all children, and was working to stimulate the creation of more jobs through an active labour market policy.

AVIVIT BAR-ILAN, Head of Bureau, Department for International Organization, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Israel, said that, over the past three decades, the world had seen incredible results in the eradication of poverty.  However, 10 per cent of the world’s population still lived below the poverty line in 2013.  “If we are determined to win this battle, it will require the active participation of our entire societies,” she stressed, calling on all citizens to make the world more inclusive and tolerant.  Youth were particularly critical, as decisions made today would determine the course of tomorrow.  Israel took its youth, and their views, seriously.  More and more young people in the country were choosing to take a gap year between school and their military service, participating in programmes aimed at building leadership, assisting communities and sparking social change.  At the other end of the age spectrum, ageing persons were often socially excluded simply because of their age, and were disproportionately at risk of inadequate and insecure income as well as insufficient access to services.  Among other programmes, Israel was working to link together its ageing population with its youth, as the former had vast knowledge and experience to share with the latter.

JEAN-MARIE BOUVERAT, Chair of Delegation, Office of Social Insurance, International Organizations of Switzerland supported the international community’s efforts in favour of social protection, which was a fundamental approach to eradicating poverty, addressing inequalities and including the marginalized.  Switzerland also supported the development of agriculture in developing countries, as poverty was currently concentrated in rural areas.  Agriculture was clearly the driving force behind rural development, particularly development related to value chains.  One of Switzerland’s objectives, especially through its development cooperation, was to promote resilience and preparedness of vulnerable communities, especially in relation to climate change.  Social protection and support by the international community, including through cash transfers, could help curb the destructive practices by poverty‑stricken populations.  By providing social protection to populations displaced by humanitarian crises, it was also possible to relieve pressure on the environment and natural resources, such as through the practice of deforestation for fuel oil.

VALERIE MATLOU, Chief Director for Economic Development of South Africa, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said former President Nelson Mandela — who would have turned 100 in 2018 — continued to inspire people around the world.  President Mandela had believed that abject poverty was an assault on the dignity of those who suffered from it, and “demeans us all”, she said, adding that older persons were often disproportionately affected.  Outlining several efforts by her Government to improve the well‑being of older persons, including their access to social services, she warned that today’s global climate was driving increased discrimination based on race, national origins and other factors.  In addition, the global economy’s slow recovery from the recent crises continued to negatively impact South Africa, with its youth largely excluded from the labour market due to lack of opportunities.  In response, the Government was working to boost job creation and realize the goal of free education for all, while ensuring the rights of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities.

FEDERICO BARRETO, General Director of Youth, Ministry of Social Development of Uruguay, noting that his country enjoyed the largest gross domestic product (GDP) in Latin America as well as progressive social policies, said the country had dramatically reduced both poverty and extreme poverty in the last decade.  Uruguay was also committed to the 2030 Agenda, including its promise to leave no one behind.  Among other things, it had established a minimum wage, created a Ministry of Social Development, made health care coverage a right to all Uruguayans, put in place a system of cash transfers for vulnerable families and enhanced access to jobs.  Moreover, he said, the Government believed that no sustainable social development or economic growth could be accomplished without a more equal distribution of wealth.  All vulnerable groups — including young children and older persons — had the right to assistance, he said, underlining the Government’s focus on early childhood care and education through such initiatives as the establishment of care centres.  Uruguay had also made strides in such progressive areas as marriage equality and the protection of reproductive and sexual rights.

JOSEPHINE MURIUKI, Director of the Department of Social Development, Ministry of East African Community, Labour and Social Protection of Kenya, supporting the position of the Group of 77, emphasized that 768 million still lived in extreme poverty, the majority in sub‑Saharan Africa and Asia.  Breaking the cycles of poverty was difficult and all efforts must be made to achieve progress in doing so.  Kenya’s development priorities included food security, nutrition, housing and manufacturing, with projects such as health packages offering new services and initiatives to subsidize education and training programmes.  In addition, information and communications technology (ICT) had been integrated in schools and mobile financing programmes had transformed the economic and social landscape, which had seen mobile phone usage doubling in recent years.  The Government was also in the process of implementing a pension payment plan, slated to commence in March.  Kenya was committed to social development, the 2030 Agenda and the eradication of poverty, she said, adding that partnerships must be strengthened to attain the goals and reach those farthest behind.

KARLA VANESSA LEMUS, Director for Social Development, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, highlighted poverty eradication gains, including subsidies and programmes aimed at reaching vulnerable groups.  Policies had introduced a range of efforts, from providing decent work opportunities to reducing malnutrition, she said, emphasizing that poverty was multidimensional, from temporary hardships to lack of access to services.  That paradigm shift must be considered when shaping programmes, policies and dialogue.  Such dialogue on the 2030 Agenda must include challenges middle‑income countries faced, with a view to ensuring that gains were not reversed.  The Secretary‑General’s report had failed to include those and other challenges.  For its part, El Salvador had taken steps to make progress, including preventing adolescent pregnancies and promoting respect for the human rights of older persons.

MAGINO CORPORAN LORENZO, Director of the National Council on Disability of the Dominican Republic, endorsing the positions of the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said his Government had created a platform to coordinate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Providing several examples, he said a road map on eradicating poverty included projects to address the needs of young people.  Policies and programmes to assist youth aimed at including them in the labour market.  A society must include equal rights and the promotion of sustainable development, he said, underlining the importance of access to decent work.  As such, innovative programmes were now creating jobs with flexible hours.  For the first time in the Dominican Republic, policies had promoted healthy ageing and protected the rights and well‑being of older persons.  Turning to climate change challenges, a team had been established to address the related needs of older persons.  Efforts also targeted the needs of persons with disabilities.  Placing people at the centre of development was the key to achieving the goals, he said.

ALBERT BIWA, Deputy Director of Social Welfare of Namibia, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said national policies had already triggered growth and progress, but more needed to be done to break the cycle of poverty.  Adopting a social welfare approach based on human rights was the way forward.  Namibia had established a ministry to coordinate poverty eradication.  A blueprint was now targeting efforts, based on principles such as ending hunger, education and training development, gender equality and women’s empowerment and with a view towards leaving no one behind.  The Government was also investigating further efforts to prevent a duplication of services and was offering grants and cash transfer programmes to vulnerable groups.  It has also adopted a social safety net approach in eradicating poverty while implementing policies to reduce unemployment and allocating part of the national budget to education and tackling hunger, with services ranging from school lunches to helping farmers.

Panel II

The Commission held a high‑level panel discussion on emerging issues titled “Towards sustainable and resilient societies: Innovation and interconnectivity for social development”.  Moderated by Jeremy Millard, Chief Policy Advisor of the Danish Technological Institute in Denmark, the panel featured presentations by Gong Sen, a Research Fellow of the Development Research Centre of the State Council and Executive Vice‑President of the China Centre for International Knowledge on Development; Noor Al Malki Al Jehani, Executive Director of the Doha International Family Institute; Walter Valdivia, a Senior Fellow to the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, a science policy think tank at Arizona State University, adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, and a senior policy editor at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University; Maria Garrido, a Research Assistant Professor and principal research scientist at the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington; and Donna Scheeder, President (2015‑2017) of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

Mr. MILLARD said that society was not just about economics and technology, but also about social development and people’s happiness and welfare.  Many people thought of technology as neutral, but it was also very much socially constructed.  Technology was often driven by the market, but it could also be driven by social need and social good.  One challenge today was the way technology was penetrating the digital world and every aspect of life.  A fourth industrial revolution was under way — a blend of the digital, physical and biological worlds.  He cited the example of 3D printing, which made it possible to turn digital bits of information from one part of the world into objects in another part.  Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, could take the place of medium- and high‑skilled jobs, as well as low- and no‑skill ones.  A fundamental issue, however, was what machines did best and what people did best.  Most algorithms being developed today were excellent at specialized tasks, but not so much at doing a range of tasks together and seeing the links between them.  There were still a lot of things that human beings could do, he said.

Mr. SEN, examining regional disparity and the rural‑urban divide in China through two case studies, first presented information on Chongqing, a municipality that had witnessed exponential growth based in part on the development of the transportation sector.  Alongside road and railway projects, air routes had been augmented, turning the city into a travel hub.  He then turned to the case of Alibaba Taobao village programmes, the effective rural revitalization initiative aimed at reducing urban population pressures and fostering economic growth.  From 2009 to 2017, the number of Taobao villages rose to 2,118 from 3, with projected employment opportunities climbing to 3 million jobs in 2020.  Grassroots entrepreneurship was the driving force, with efforts strongly backed by infrastructure, public services and the development of e‑commerce learning centres.

Ms. AL MALKI AL JEHANI explained interconnectivity benefits and challenges in the Arab world, saying that ICT had transformed societies, with social media engaging 80 million users in 20 countries.  Yet risks existed, as social inequalities, including low literacy rates and poverty, remained the most pressing development challenge, exacerbated by pervasive discrimination against women and weak youth engagement.  Social media also had mixed benefits among families, improving communication while also reducing personal contact, and among youth, providing them with an online voice, as with the Arab Spring, but also posing risks, by promoting radicalization.  Education had seen colossal benefits, with boosted teaching and learning opportunities, but challenges included widening regional disparities, lack of public investment and high costs.  Providing examples of how interconnectivity was promoting social progress, she said Qatar had launched an app to better serve older persons.  Among several recommendations, she encouraged support for innovative ICT in social and sustainable development efforts at national and regional levels related to the 2030 Agenda.

Mr. VALDIVIA said many Governments, non‑governmental organizations and businesses believed ICT was beneficial, with many supporting the belief that simply providing access to the Internet would promote development.  However, providing interconnectivity alone was not enough.  Markets were configured depending on technologies that emerged and transformed their industries and an array of economies, giving birth to new market arrangements.  Resilience and sustainability rested on equality, a principle that must be considered when examining how to embrace technology in an effective way to promote greater equity and more participation.  In that way, societies could possibly steer the direction of their communities along a more inclusive, democratic path.

Ms. GARRIDO discussed how access to information could create more socially and economically inclusive societies, highlighting the ever‑broadening online community, which now included 45 per cent of the world.  Noting that access to information had been included in 19 of the targets in the Sustainable Development Goals, she presented several key elements to promote those objectives.  Affordability was critical, she said, noting that 80 per cent of the globe was covered by at least 3G networks.  One way to make it affordable was through community mobile networks, which offered a cooperative‑based approach, with Government support essential to broaden access, as seen in Indonesia and Mexico.  Bridging the ICT gender gap was also imperative, in view of the fact that 40 per cent of women in less developed regions were active online, when compared with 80 per cent in more developed areas.  Social policies must support gender equality, including providing access, skills and leadership training, but they must also support freedom, as 60 per cent of Internet users lived in countries where people were arrested or imprisoned for posting content on political, social and religious issues, and 49 per cent of users lived in countries where people had been attacked or killed for their online activities.

Ms. SCHEEDER said sustainable development hinged on meaningful, inclusive access to information, which in turn depended on libraries.  The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions had launched the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development, involving more than 570 organizations.  Its principles declared that access to information empowered people to exercise their civil, political, economic and social rights, learn and apply skills, make decisions and participate in an active civil society, create community‑based solutions, ensure accountability and measure progress.  Access and development links recognized the multidimensional nature of poverty, which included information poverty that kept half the world’s population offline.  “If we ignore the need to bridge the information poverty gap,” she said, “we get caught in a negative downward spiral.”  Such gaps must be addressed; inaction was not an option.  Libraries, often the only public space where communities can gather, were an essential part of an information ecosystem, bridging the digital divide.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates posed questions on national and global concerns, with many agreeing that interconnectivity contributed to development by, among other things, strengthening relations between Governments and the citizens they served.  Some shared examples of ways their Governments were making strides in broadening online access and services.  The delegate for South Africa described online social record management and cash transfers.  The speaker for Argentina said services included distance learning and digital literacy programmes for vulnerable groups, and the Vice‑President of Costa Rica elaborated on a strategy providing Internet access to poor households.  The representative of Hungary said her Government was providing free online textbooks to children nationwide, and the speaker for the European Union said members were developing a new approach to digitalization without leaving anyone behind.

Some made suggestions on ways forward.  The representative of Germany highlighted insights from an ongoing national dialogue on labour, saying substantial investments in skills and education were needed to help workers adapt to new technology, and innovation must be supported with a view to creating new work frameworks.  The speaker for Haiti called for solid public policies and strategies based on addressing the multidimensional nature of poverty, and the delegate for Cuba said genuine international cooperation was needed.  Raising the issue that poverty seemed to target the youngest generations, between ages 15 and 35, and rural populations, the representative of Burkina Faso said ethics must be considered in the pursuit of technological solutions.

A Member of Parliament from Ghana pointed out that the very principle of community was being challenged, with increased online use at, for example, the dinner table.  He then asked how to use the Internet to bring communities together and asked how connectivity was defined in various countries, particularly related to poverty reduction.

Mr. SEN, responding to the latter question, said beneficial connections could and should be made to the broader world to improve communities.  To the former, he confessed he had no idea how to deal with the Internet at the dinner table.

Ms. AL MALKI AL JEHANI, addressing that question, said families must make decisions to socially connect rather than disconnect by going online.  She reminded some delegates that most participants existed and lived before the Internet existed.

Mr. VALDIVIA emphasized that measuring connectivity could include examining access to digital banking or other financial services.  As for online connectivity at dinner, he said perhaps those who checked their phones at the dinner table could be punished by following the President’s Twitter feed for two hours.

Ms. GARRIDO emphasized that there was a need to reconceptualize the definition of connectivity.  In addition, the issue of available public social spaces should be examined.  Responding to a query on what key skills men and women would need in the future, she said information and mobile literacy were critical.

Ms. SCHEEDER added that a commitment to continuous learning was also important, as was connecting with one another during family time.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of several non‑governmental organizations.

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Commission for Social Development

Note: Full coverage will be available after the meetings' conclusion today.

Statements

PETRONELLA KAGONYE, Minister for Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe, associating herself with the statements delivered on Monday on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the African Group, said her country had integrated the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals into its “Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socioeconomic Transformation”.  That plan addressed such issues as employment creation, poverty reduction, social protection and inclusive development, she said, noting that the majority of women in Zimbabwe were employed in the agricultural sector where they comprised 80 per cent of the workforce and 60 per cent of the 5.4 million people in the informal sector.  National strategies had reserved a 20 per cent quota for women entitled to apply for ownership of agricultural land, while others focused on the special needs of young people and prioritized education, leading to the achievement of gender parity in primary school enrolment rates and high literacy rates.  Still other programmes targeted the needs of populations including persons with disabilities, the elderly, and orphaned and vulnerable children.

AMADOU AISSATA ISSA MAIGA, Minister for Population of Niger, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said her country had put in place several strategies to combat poverty and strengthen its population’s well‑being.  Its main framework for action aimed to see all men and women, especially the most vulnerable, benefit from basic services.  It also sought to boost women’s land ownership and offered a holistic vision of social protection and the provision of emergency humanitarian assistance where needed.  Niger had also passed laws to ensure equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and which enshrined their basic rights to employment, social services and freedom from discrimination.  “We must make the issue of disability a priority,” she stressed, citing concrete progress achieved since Niger’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, such as improved accessibility to public buildings and widespread awareness‑raising campaigns.  Social protection for older persons had also been enshrined in the country’s laws, ensuring their access to medical care and establishing a national solidarity office to address relevant issues.  As a result of those and other initiatives, poverty in Niger had fallen by 2.8 per cent between 2011 and 2014, she said.

ANTOINETTE DINGA‑DZONDO, Minister for Social Affairs of Congo, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said poverty‑targeted efforts were particularly important, especially for vulnerable groups.  Poverty affected half of Congo’s 4 million citizens, of whom 60 per cent were under age 30, almost 5 per cent were older persons and 1.4 per cent were living with disabilities.  Government programmes aimed at addressing various needs by expanding social protection services.  Projects targeted special needs, including cash transfers and job creation efforts, and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) initiative was making further steps such as boosting the digital economy, yet challenges remained, such as streamlining budgets and coordination.

JUAN EDUARDO FAÚNDEZ MOLINA, Vice‑Minister for Social Development of Chile, said poverty and violence were social obstacles to most societies, with international organizations playing a central role in efforts to address those challenges.  Highlighting the multidimensional nature of poverty, he said many aspects must be addressed simultaneously, including health, housing and religious life.  Chile was changing its methodology for measuring poverty, having submitted relevant reports to the United Nations.  It strongly supported the 2030 Agenda.  More detailed data had painted a clearer national picture of needs, from political participation to social protection gaps.  The new socially democratic Government was poised to promote a range of social issues, including education, women’s rights and shaping a new Constitution for the twenty‑first century.  Such efforts aimed at redirecting society towards a more humane and sustainable one.

ALEXEY CHERKASOV, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of the Russian Federation, expressed support for poverty reduction, as everyone should be covered by health and social services.  Despite the ongoing financial crisis and unilateral sanctions, the Russian Federation had offered a wide array of services, including new measures targeting families and children in need and raising the national minimum wage across a range of professions.  Strategic development projects spanned sectors such as health, education, labour, transportation and support for entrepreneurship.  Special efforts were, among other things, reaching those in remote areas and training workers in the latest technologies.  Turning to the work of the Commission, he said it had played a leading role in providing agreed upon guidance with regard to many issues, including youth, persons with disabilities and the role families could play.

EDI SUHARTO, Vice Minister for Social Services of Indonesia, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the Sustainable Development Goals had provided a universal and global agenda, but now a comprehensive approach was needed to achieve those targets by 2030.  Indonesia had taken a number of steps towards those goals, for instance, with efforts aimed at cutting poverty to 7 per cent by 2019 from 10.7 per cent in 2016, and primary school enrolment having already climbed to more than 95 per cent.  Empowerment was key to development, including enhancing health and education sectors while reducing unemployment, but challenges remained.  While poverty was decreasing in Indonesia, the heart of the problem was its chronic cycle that must be broken.  Ensuring inclusive development was the way forward, he said, calling on stakeholders to find innovative strategies to make the 2030 Agenda succeed.

TAMADER ALRAMMAH, Deputy Minister for Direct Localization and General Director of Social Welfare and Family of Saudi Arabia, associating herself with the Group of 77, said anti‑poverty policies should be tailored to the specific cultural contexts of individual countries.  However, some elements were common to all nations, she said, describing Saudi Arabia’s own national programmes.  Those included a range of new social transformations aimed at empowering people, strengthening the participation of women in the workforce, bolstering food security, enacting new economic reforms and providing social protection to all.  Saudi Arabia was working to make social assistance available to persons with disabilities and their families, putting in place a national plan to that effect.  In addition, strategies had been enacted to protect the elderly and meet their special needs, including through the establishment of 38 centres for older persons throughout the country, the provision of stipends and the launch of a detailed study on their well‑being.  Efforts were also under way to promote education, including through the provision of scholarships, she said.

KAREN ELLEMANN, Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Nordic Cooperation of Denmark, spotlighted four issues her country viewed as critical to eradicating poverty by 2030.  First was the need to build strong partnerships, including between Governments, the private sector, academia and civil society, all of which needed to work together to ensure that efforts were directed towards common goals for people, planet and prosperity.  Second, eradicating poverty required a sustained, long‑term development effort, she said, noting that Denmark had delivered on the United Nations target of providing 0.7 per cent of its gross national income as official development assistance (ODA) for 40 years in a row, and encouraging other countries to do the same.  Third, there was a need to focus on gender equality and young people, especially young women, she said, noting that their increased engagement and productivity would benefit not only them but also their countries as a whole.  Finally, it was critical to pay special attention to those living in protracted displacement or in countries affected by conflict and crisis, 50 per cent of whom still lived in extreme poverty.

GABRIELA AGOSTO, Executive Secretary of the National Council for the Coordination of Social Policies of Argentina, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the statement delivered yesterday on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said some challenges — including climate change, migration and poverty — were facing all countries of the world.  The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals were leading global efforts to confront such issues, she said, noting that Argentina was also working on a national level to guarantee quality social services, universal health care and education to all.  Among other things, the country guaranteed a basic income floor to its people and was working to expand its family allowance policy, while also adjusting the allowances provided to pensioners in order to improve the quality of life of older persons.  A national habitat plan was working with local and provincial governments to enhance access to water, sanitation, lit sidewalks and other important infrastructure.  Another critical pillar of the Government’s work dealt with education, including the provision of early education to all children, accessible from the time they were 45 days old.  That plan provided support to families, she said, noting that it helped with food security and allowed new parents to return to work.

KATALIN NOVÁK, Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs, Ministry of Human Capacity of Hungary, said a steady population decline had led the Government to introduce several measures since 2010.  From childcare benefits to decent work — seen in robust school attendance and an unemployment rate of less than 4 per cent — Hungary was focusing on further reaching those in need.  Free services, including meals and textbooks in schools and childcare for working parents, were among ongoing initiatives.  For those in need, affordable summer camp was accessible and subsidized housing available.  By working and establishing financial health, development goals could be successfully attained.

A youth delegate from Hungary said all countries faced different challenges.  For her country, challenges involving an ageing population must be addressed and future generations must have the tools to continue the brilliant work of the United Nations.  Ensuring youth participation was a priority and young people must be empowered, she said, highlighting the importance of the “zero step” in light of a declining population.

IBRAHIM ADAM IBRAHIM MOHAMED, State Minister at the Ministry of Welfare and Social Security of Sudan, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, provided a snapshot of his country’s national plan.  With 17 target areas such as youth employment, education, health and sanitation, Sudan aimed at broadening the reach of services to the most vulnerable.  Expanded programme areas included providing clean drinking water and long‑term security.  A strategy to develop microfinancing structures was supporting social projects for the full employment of youth and for strengthening institutions to combat poverty.  Sudan had also launched a social census to determine further needs and priorities.  Pursuant to the Secretary‑General’s report, what Sudan had achieved was enormous.  Drawing attention to the scourge of conflict as a driver for poverty, he said war created persons with disabilities and destroyed communities.  As such, conflict‑related issues must be duly addressed.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, said establishing equal opportunity was the only way to eradicate poverty.  Belarus had focused efforts on guaranteeing employment and decent work for all, alongside initiatives to gather disaggregated data to better inform future projects.  Successfully combating poverty required a global approach, one that considered donor and recipient countries and their respective efforts to achieve sustainable development.  The international community could also assist in the progress of humankind in a more just world.  Countries must refrain from taking selfish politically motivated and unilateral steps, such as destructive sanctions, which had detrimental consequences to countries who sought development gains.  Instead, partnerships must be fostered, he said, adding that Belarus would soon host a forum on development cooperation.

PUTTIPAT LERTCHAOWASIT, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development of Thailand, associating himself with ASEAN and the Group of 77, said that poverty eradication had always been the basis for Thailand’s development since the time of the late King Bhumibol’s reign from the mid‑1940s.  The 20‑year national strategy framework and twelfth national socioeconomic development plan articulated visions for structural transformation to address inequality in a comprehensive manner, and focused on implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Starting in 2002, Thailand’s universal health coverage scheme made access to basic health care an entitlement for all, including documented and undocumented migrants and their families.  Basic education for all, regardless of nationality, was also accessible in Thailand.  As poverty could have more negative effects on women, the Government had given particular attention to that area.  It was urgent that a strong commitment to sustainable development be translated into concrete actions.

OLIVER ARROYO, Director General for Evaluation and Monitoring of Social Programs of Mexico, said a five‑year national strategy was under way, part of efforts to enhance progress on attaining the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda.  Actions had been guided by two main elements — the multidimensional nature of poverty and a policy of inclusion.  Food, education, health and social security were among the action areas, he said, providing examples of how the Government was making gains in breaking the cycle of poverty.  Among gains, a labour reform in 2012 had created 3.5 million formal jobs, and chronic child malnutrition had been reduced.  Quality education was also a priority.  Meanwhile, other projects focused on pension payments, particularly for women, and other social protection measures.  Reviewing working methods of the Commission should be considered alongside the transformation of its mandate so it could remain a pillar of development at the United Nations.

SOPIO KILADZE, Chairperson of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee of the Parliament of Georgia, stressing that “poverty has deep roots and many faces”, said the phenomenon’s manifestation depended on circumstances that differed from country to country.  In Georgia, the Government had fundamentally reformed its human rights protection system — especially with regard to civil and political rights — but poverty remained a major related challenge.  About 21 per cent of the population lived in poverty, she said, adding that children, youth, elderly persons and other vulnerable groups were among those affected.  Two main policies, namely Georgia 2020 and the global 2030 Agenda, were driving the Government’s efforts to combat poverty.  Among other things, Georgia had implemented its Social Worker Institution Reform Plan, drafted a legal child code to ensure the dignity of all children, and was working to stimulate the creation of more jobs through an active labour market policy.

AVIVIT BAR-ILAN, Head of Bureau, Department for International Organization, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Israel, said that, over the past three decades, the world had seen incredible results in the eradication of poverty.  However, 10 per cent of the world’s population still lived below the poverty line in 2013.  “If we are determined to win this battle, it will require the active participation of our entire societies,” she stressed, calling on all citizens to make the world more inclusive and tolerant.  Youth were particularly critical, as decisions made today would determine the course of tomorrow.  Israel took its youth, and their views, seriously.  More and more young people in the country were choosing to take a gap year between school and their military service, participating in programmes aimed at building leadership, assisting communities and sparking social change.  At the other end of the age spectrum, ageing persons were often socially excluded simply because of their age, and were disproportionately at risk of inadequate and insecure income as well as insufficient access to services.  Among other programmes, Israel was working to link together its ageing population with its youth, as the former had vast knowledge and experience to share with the latter.

JEAN-MARIE BOUVERAT, Chair of Delegation, Office of Social Insurance, International Organizations of Switzerland supported the international community’s efforts in favour of social protection, which was a fundamental approach to eradicating poverty, addressing inequalities and including the marginalized.  Switzerland also supported the development of agriculture in developing countries, as poverty was currently concentrated in rural areas.  Agriculture was clearly the driving force behind rural development, particularly development related to value chains.  One of Switzerland’s objectives, especially through its development cooperation, was to promote resilience and preparedness of vulnerable communities, especially in relation to climate change.  Social protection and support by the international community, including through cash transfers, could help curb the destructive practices by poverty‑stricken populations.  By providing social protection to populations displaced by humanitarian crises, it was also possible to relieve pressure on the environment and natural resources, such as through the practice of deforestation for fuel oil.

VALERIE MATLOU, Chief Director for Economic Development of South Africa, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said former President Nelson Mandela — who would have turned 100 in 2018 — continued to inspire people around the world.  President Mandela had believed that abject poverty was an assault on the dignity of those who suffered from it, and “demeans us all”, she said, adding that older persons were often disproportionately affected.  Outlining several efforts by her Government to improve the well‑being of older persons, including their access to social services, she warned that today’s global climate was driving increased discrimination based on race, national origins and other factors.  In addition, the global economy’s slow recovery from the recent crises continued to negatively impact South Africa, with its youth largely excluded from the labour market due to lack of opportunities.  In response, the Government was working to boost job creation and realize the goal of free education for all, while ensuring the rights of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities.

FEDERICO BARRETO, General Director of Youth, Ministry of Social Development of Uruguay, noting that his country enjoyed the largest gross domestic product (GDP) in Latin America as well as progressive social policies, said the country had dramatically reduced both poverty and extreme poverty in the last decade.  Uruguay was also committed to the 2030 Agenda, including its promise to leave no one behind.  Among other things, it had established a minimum wage, created a Ministry of Social Development, made health care coverage a right to all Uruguayans, put in place a system of cash transfers for vulnerable families and enhanced access to jobs.  Moreover, he said, the Government believed that no sustainable social development or economic growth could be accomplished without a more equal distribution of wealth.  All vulnerable groups — including young children and older persons — had the right to assistance, he said, underlining the Government’s focus on early childhood care and education through such initiatives as the establishment of care centres.  Uruguay had also made strides in such progressive areas as marriage equality and the protection of reproductive and sexual rights.

JOSEPHINE MURIUKI, Director, Department of Social Development, Ministry of East African Community, Labour and Social Protection of Kenya, supporting the position of the Group of 77, emphasized that 768 million still lived in extreme poverty, the majority in sub‑Saharan Africa and Asia.  Breaking the cycles of poverty was difficult and all efforts must be made to achieve progress in doing so.  Kenya’s development priorities included food security, nutrition, housing and manufacturing, with projects such as health packages offering new services and initiatives to subsidize education and training programmes.  In addition, information and communications technology had been integrated in schools and mobile financing programmes had transformed the economic and social landscape, which had seen mobile phone usage doubling in recent years.  The Government was also in the process of implementing a pension payment plan, slated to commence in March.  Kenya was committed to social development, the 2030 Agenda and the eradication of poverty, she said, adding that partnerships must be strengthened to attain the goals and reach those farthest behind.

The Director for Social Development, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, highlighted poverty eradication gains, including subsidies and programmes aimed at reaching vulnerable groups.  Policies had introduced a range of efforts, from providing decent work opportunities to reducing malnutrition, she said, emphasizing that poverty was multidimensional, from temporary hardships to lack of access to services.  That paradigm shift must be considered when shaping programmes, policies and dialogue.  Such dialogue on the 2030 Agenda must include challenges middle‑income countries faced, with a view to ensuring that gains were not reversed.  The Secretary‑General’s report had failed to include those and other challenges.  For its part, El Salvador had taken steps to make progress, including preventing adolescent pregnancies and promoting respect for the human rights of older persons.

MAGINO CORPORAN LORENZO, Director of the National Council on Disability of the Dominican Republic, endorsing the positions of the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said his Government had created a platform to coordinate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Providing several examples, he said a road map on eradicating poverty included projects to address the needs of young people.  Policies and programmes to assist youth aimed at including them in the labour market.  A society must include equal rights and the promotion of sustainable development, he said, underlining the importance of access to decent work.  As such, innovative programmes were now creating jobs with flexible hours.  For the first time in the Dominican Republic, policies had promoted healthy ageing and protected the rights and well‑being of older persons.  Turning to climate change challenges, a team had been established to address the related needs of older persons.  Efforts also targeted the needs of persons with disabilities.  Placing people at the centre of development was the key to achieving the goals, he said.

ALBERT BIWA, Deputy Director of Social Welfare of Namibia, aligning himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said national policies had already triggered growth and progress, but more needed to be done to break the cycle of poverty.  Adopting a social welfare approach based on human rights was the way forward.  Namibia had established a ministry to coordinate poverty eradication.  A blueprint was now targeting efforts, based on principles such as ending hunger, education and training development, gender equality and women’s empowerment and with a view towards leaving no one behind.  The Government was also investigating further efforts to prevent a duplication of services and was offering grants and cash transfer programmes to vulnerable groups.  It has also adopted a social safety net approach in eradicating poverty while implementing policies to reduce unemployment and allocating part of the national budget to education and tackling hunger, with services ranging from school lunches to helping farmers.

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New e-book released: IRIN’s reporting on climate change and food security

Over the last two decades, 200 million people across the world have been lifted out of hunger. But as climate change brings more frequent and severe weather shocks such as droughts and floods, and makes rainfall patterns less predictable, these gains are under threat.

Throughout 2017, IRIN has been exploring the impact climate change has had on a large group of people who are extremely vulnerable to its effects and yet play a negligible role in causing it: smallholder farmers in Africa.

Agriculture is Africa’s biggest employer. But mean temperatures are expected to rise faster in the continent than the global average, decreasing crop yields and deepening poverty.

IRIN has now completed a reporting project – conducted with support from the Open Society Foundations – to outline the challenges that global warming is triggering, and to explore what local communities are doing to adapt and reduce their vulnerability.

The project covers four countries – Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zimbabwe – with the goal of sharing lessons learned so that small-scale farmers everywhere can be better supported as their challenges multiply. It provides a platform for policy discussion, and for the voices of those men and women on the front lines of climate change to be heard.

We have compiled all the articles into an e-book, which you can download here.

It contains field reporting on: climate-related problems and threats such as desertification in Nigeria, soil salination in Senegal, and the lack of technical support available to smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe; the range of responses and solutions adopted by farmers and governments; and how livestock-raising communities in the Kenyan county of Turkana are facing up to one of the worst droughts in living memory.

The document also includes three fact files full of key information about how adaptation finance works; the relationship between climate change, food security, and adaptation; and the specific climate challenges faced by pastoralist communities.

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Agriculture a hard sell for Zimbabwe’s youth

Laiza Mukute’s 14-hectare plot is a pale shadow of what it was 10 years ago.

The Mukute family – 43-year-old Laiza, her husband, and three sons – obtained the plot in 2001 under a land reform programme that saw thousands of commercial white farmers evicted and their land allocated to black Zimbabweans.

Laiza’s husband was killed by lightning in 2007. Her sons have all moved to the capital to eke out a living as street vendors, leaving their mother only with their younger, teen-age sister. Like many young Zimbabweans, they see no future for themselves in the troubled sector.

Agriculture in Zimbabwe has long suffered from meagre state investment, poor training, and limited access to farming equipment and credit – not to mention the effects of climate change in a region that has repeatedly been struck by devastating droughts and floods.

About 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s population of 16 million is under the age of 24.

“My sons won’t hear anything about farming. They would rather be in the city even though life is also tough for them there,” Mukute told IRIN at her farm in rural Mazowe, some 60 kilometres northeast of Harare.

This youth disillusionment is a phenomenon that extends well beyond the borders of Zimbabwe, according to Peter Wobst, who works on rural poverty reduction at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Africa’s rural youth face particular barriers to accessing productive employment: young women and men tend to encounter challenges in accessing adequate knowledge, information, and education,” Wobst told IRIN. “They have insufficient access to land, inputs, financial services, markets, and, ultimately, limited involvement in policy dialogue.”

This is despite the fact that the almost 200 million people in Africa aged between 15 and 24, as the FAO puts it, represent “a large potential reservoir for the growth of the agriculture sector”.

Different aspirations

Mukute is barely making ends meet. She can’t afford to replace her dilapidated ox-drawn cart and has sold off most of her livestock.

Only her 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, helps her in the fields, “Who knows, she may also join her brothers one day and leave me too struggle on my own,” she said.

These are well-founded fears.

“I can’t remain stuck here farming because it comes with hard labour,” Elizabeth told IRIN. “If I pass my O-level [exams] next year, my mother and my brothers will have to find money for me to go for A-levels and, after that, university. I want to be a lawyer and I will employ someone to come and help my mother with work on the plot.”

Whereas the larger Mukute family used to grow maize, groundnuts, and tobacco on the full 10 hectares, now only two hectares are under cultivation.

Food security at stake

Many families in Mazowe and rural areas across Zimbabwe have seen a similar exodus of younger members to cities, gold and diamond mining areas, and other countries.

Wonder Chabikwa, head of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union, said the future of farming and food security in the country will depend on the commitment of young people to working the resettled land.

“Most of the youths seem not to have a conviction for farming, and the majority of those that will remain to till the land will do so because they have limited options,” he told IRIN.

This sentiment is echoed on the website of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, a separate association, which recognises that “the future of agriculture lies in the hands of the youths, and therefore there is [an] urgent need to unleash their potential and energy in that direction.”

To this end, for the past five years, ZFU has organised a Youth Agripreneurship Summit, which brings hundreds of young farmers together to acquire leadership skills, network with key players in the sector, and learn about new technology.

One school of thought is that there might be more interest from young people if they could be encouraged to drive through commercialisation in the sector that would help address the low productivity issues.

But Chabikwa warned of the dangers of placing too much emphasis on the types of farming that generate the greatest profits, such as tobacco, even if that crop has dramatically improved the living standards of many resettled farmers.

“Inevitably, youths would always be enticed by farming that brings money through cash, but this is at the expense of food crops like maize. If the youths would rush into tobacco farming and horticulture, food security suffers,” he told IRIN.

Challenges

A survey of the aspirations of school children in two of Zimbabwe’s provinces conducted in March 2017 found that while some respondents mentioned agriculture, they “didn’t emphasise just any old farming, but they had a clear focus on intensive irrigated agriculture, notably horticulture, but also tobacco” – both “seen as a route to accumulation (of wealth) and future prosperity”.

Cited obstacles to realising these aspirations included lack of farming skills and access to land.

In Mukute’s neighbourhood, the latter is a common concern.

Johnson Hozheri, 34, farms on 1.5 hectares given to him by his father when he married and couldn’t find another farm to settle on.

“My father gave the four of us (three brothers and a sister) plots on this farm on which we were resettled as a family 18 years ago. The plots are too small for meaningful farming, but do we have a choice? We are already congested,” Hozheri told IRIN.

To supplement their income, the brothers pan for gold along the Mazowe River during the dry season. They also cross the border to South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia to buy various goods for resale among the rural farmers or in nearby towns.

“We always come back home because life is tough in the towns or in other countries,” Hozheri said. “Young people from smaller families have been luckier because there is more to share, but disputes over who is entitled to the land in the event of the death of the parents are common in this community. There are several cases where the farms ended up derelict because of the disputes.”

To redress such problems, independent member of parliament Temba Mliswa, also a farmer, is urging the government to speed up a promised audit to identify unused resettled land and make it available for young farmers squeezed into plots allocated to their parents.

He said the government must also prioritise the training of young people in agriculture.

A recent report by the parliamentary committee on lands and agriculture identified major shortcomings among the country’s tertiary educational institutions, exacerbated by shoestring budgets and obsolete or inadequate training materials and equipment.

(Additional reporting by Sally Nyakanyaga)

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Bumper Zimbabwe harvest prompts bigger bet on “command agriculture”

Zimbabwe is expected to harvest 2.1 million metric tonnes of maize this year after good rains followed successive El Niño-induced droughts. For the first time in many seasons the country will be able to feed itself and not require commercial imports or food aid. But is this the result of good fortune or good policy?

The Zimbabwean government is convinced it has found the secret to food security after the biggest maize harvest since a controversial land reform programme was launched nearly two decades ago. It’s ignoring the critics who say success was mostly due to the better weather and who worry about the scheme’s gaps and longer-term returns.

New President Emmerson Mnangagwa is doubling down on “command agriculture”, a major private sector-backed subsidy programme in which farmers are provided with seeds, fertiliser, fuel, and chemicals – on loan, with repayment made with a portion of the harvest the following season.

Some 50,000 small-scale and commercial farmers working 160,000 hectares of maize in “high potential” areas benefited from the programme and are expected to sell a hefty five tonnes per hectare back to the state-run Grain Marketing Board as part repayment on their loans.

Happy farmers

Simpson Mukari from rural Goromonzi, 50 kilometres southeast of the capital, Harare, said he harvested an average of seven tonnes per hectare after being provided with fuel and tillage services.

“I cultivated 20 hectares under command agriculture and what I harvested exceeded my expectations,” he told IRIN. “I have repaid the loan in full, set aside enough maize to last a year for my [six-member] family, and might not need another loan since I made a good profit.”

After repaying the loan, he was left with a net harvest of 40 tonnes of maize worth more than $15,000.

Command agriculture is being repeated with even more ambitious targets this year – and extended to include wheat, soya, and livestock.

Maize production will cover 220,000 hectares – 60,000 hectares irrigated and the rest rain-fed – at an anticipated cost of $213 million. A fuel supply company, Sakunda Holdings, among other private firms, is financing the programme on behalf of the government, although details are vague.

Command agriculture was “designed to solve a fundamental problem facing our country in the aftermath of the land reform, that of mobilising sustainable and affordable funding for our agriculture,” Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa wrote earlier this year. “The 2016-17 harvest sets the stage for achieving this goal.”

A difficult road to food security

Zimbabwe has tried a number of schemes to kick-start agriculture since the disruption of land reform in 2000, in which white-owned commercial farms were seized without compensation and redistributed to landless Zimbabweans.

The economy was hit by a lack of foreign investment as a result, with successive droughts also undermining production. In response, in 2005/6 the army ran Operation Taguta/Sisuthi, which forced farmers to surrender their maize surplus, but this was deemed a failure.

In 2007, the Reserve Bank introduced a Farm Mechanisation Scheme, but the equipment seemed to go mainly to the well-connected, was widely viewed as corrupt, and again failed.

Mnangagwa, as vice president last year, championed the command agriculture contract farming system. In his inauguration speech as head of state last month, he prioritised food security as a government goal.

Underlining the determination, he appointed Perence Shiri minister of agriculture. A former air force commander, Shiri, like Mnangagwa, won notoriety for his role in a government crackdown on dissidents in the 1980s that killed more than 20,000 civilians in Matabeleland.

At the core of Mnangagwa’s command approach is the centralised planning and development model borrowed from the Chinese – an old ideological partner of the ruling ZANU-PF party. The army and their logistical support plays a key role in the scheme alongside regular ministry of agriculture extension officers.

The cost of success

But the government is ignoring the economics behind the programme, critics say. It announced last year it would pay farmers $390 a tonne for maize this harvest – well above the world price, and reportedly roughly a third more than millers had offered the government.

According to Reuters, that price difference is worth $118 million, adding to a deficit for this year forecast at $400 million and an already heavy debt burden.

Institute of Development Studies research fellow Ian Scoones argues that agricultural subsidies are nothing new – domestically it was what was used to develop white commercial farming by the colonial government in the 1930s and 1940s.

He suggested that the current government could be looking to provide a shot in the arm to the struggling class of black commercial farmers who, although well-connected to ZANU-PF, have not performed as successfully as small-scale farmers as a result of land reform.

“The big question is of course, ‘how sustainable is this approach for the longer term – economically and politically?’” Scoones noted. “A bad rainfall year, or even a middling one, may unravel things quickly, loading more onto an already crippling national debt.”

John Robertson, a Harare-based economic consultant, believes command agriculture is a “big fallacy” – especially as climate change threatens the viability of rain-fed maize production.

“This is particularly important to note because most of the irrigation infrastructure across the country is in very bad shape,” he told IRIN.

Out of the 50,000 farmers who benefited under the maize scheme, more than 10,000 have reportedly not delivered to the GMB as required – largely because of the marketing board’s reputation for long delays in payment.

The difficult calculation made by farmers at harvest time is whether to sell to the GMB or to informal dealers who can pay on the spot but offer much less – an option that also avoids the additional cost of transporting your maize to the GMB’s silos.

The gaps

According to one news report, as of 31 July the GMB had received just 230,000 tonnes of grain – out of the 2.1 million tonnes forecast to have been harvested. That poor result led to the deployment of the army to persuade farmers to release their harvest.

Without clear figures it is difficult to gauge the success of command agriculture. A report last month by the parliamentary lands and agriculture committee that had toured the country generally hailed the programme, but also pointed to significant gaps in implementation.

It found some of the free inputs were inevitably sold on the black market – the bane of other government subsidy programmes. Many farmers did not receive the full package on time and, in some cases, had to travel long distances to reach a GMB centre, where they were frustrated by the bureaucracy.

The committee also acknowledged that some farmers opted out of the scheme “because of fear of the word ‘command’. The perception was that this is a military programme and if one does not live up to the expectations, the consequences will be meted out in military style.”

On the back of the good harvest, Zimbabwe is expecting economic growth of 2.5 to 3 percent in 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF also points out that the success of the contract farming system is about sustainability.

The government is aware of the budgetary implications but views targeted support as “warranted” to achieve food self-sufficiency, the IMF said in a statement.

It notes that the government is taking a bet that private sector participation in command agriculture will grow, allowing its role in turn to diminish. For critics, this is wishful thinking.

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A hard row to hoe for Nigeria to reach food self-sufficiency

On the outskirts of Nigeria’s northern city of Kano is bustling Dawanau, West Africa's largest grain market. Fortunes change hands here daily, with sacks of millet, sorghum, and cowpeas loaded onto trucks for delivery to countries as far afield as Chad, Mali, and Senegal.

But away from the hubbub of Dawanau, the smallholder farmers who produce more than 90 percent of Nigeria’s food face an uphill battle to maintain that supply.

Northern Nigeria’s vast plains are ideal for agriculture – and rice is an especially lucrative crop. The staple is a must-have at any social event and a cornerstone of some of the country’s most popular dishes, including the ubiquitous spicy favourite, “Jollof”.

Nigeria is both the largest rice producer in Africa and the continent’s biggest importer. The supply shortfall is made up with imports – mainly from Thailand and India – valued at more than $8 million per day.

As with rice, so with wheat, maize, and other grains: Nigeria, with a population of 190 million, is a significant producer, but also a net importer.

So given its abundant arable land, why can’t Nigeria support its farmers to grow more food and plug the foreign exchange drain?

The answer lies in the dominance of oil. Until the country’s oil boom in the 1970s, agriculture was Nigeria’s economic mainstay, able to meet both local demand as well as generate export earnings.

Crude oil changed that. With staggering amounts of easy money sloshing through the political system, agriculture languished.

Today, Nigeria’s annual food import bill is around $20 billion.

But a combination of dwindling oil revenues and dollar shortages has persuaded the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to make agriculture a priority again.

Grow-your-own

Under the slogan of “We must produce what we eat”, the government is encouraging agribusiness as a way to drive economic growth, and as the path out of poverty and food insecurity for millions of smallholder farmers.

The government has set ambitious targets of becoming self-sufficient in rice production by 2018, and turning a net exporter by 2020.

To create incentives for domestic production, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has restricted the allocation of dollars for the importation of a series of food items, and hiked import duties – from 10 to 60 percent in the case of rice. It has also restricted imports across land borders to crack down on smuggling.

When Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, announced earlier this year that he was making a $1 billion investment in Nigeria’s rice production, it seemed to vindicate the government’s approach.

The Dangote Group plans to produce one million tonnes of parboiled milled rice over the next five years, equivalent to 16 percent of domestic demand.

Other big players have also jumped in, including the Lagos-based conglomerate TGI, which opened a rice mill in August with a capacity of 120,000 tonnes, and Olam Nigeria, part of Singapore-based Olam International, which plans to boost its existing rice output.

A number of government initiatives are in place to promote small-scale agriculture. They include the CBN’s $300 million Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, introduced in 2015 to provide cheap loans and input subsidies for hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers.

The World Bank is also supporting the government’s agricultural transformation strategy with a $200 million loan to support small- to mid-scale rice production.

The government’s grow-your-own push seems to be working. Cereal production has increased, despite the impact on farming of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria, and rice yields are also up, helped along by higher rice prices.

Hard work with little help

But most Nigerian farmers still struggle, noted Mahmoud Daneji, managing director of the Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority.

He is critical of the government’s top-down approach. “You may have a very laudable programme, but in as much as there is no input from the potential beneficiaries, it will definitely fail,” he told IRIN.

Daneji ticked off a list of problems farmers face that includes the lack of access to quality seeds, fertiliser, effective agricultural extension systems, and access to credit for those who need it.

Despite the raft of initiatives aimed at boosting output, farmers still typically work with their bare hands in fields lacking irrigation, live in areas with poor roads that limit their access to markets, and are facing a growing threat of climate change without advice on how to adapt.

In a survey last year, farmers cited the lack of fertiliser as their biggest problem by far, despite a long-running government input programme. Nearly three quarters of respondents said they were unaware of any government interventions aimed at helping them.

Abdulrashid Magaji, Kano State chair of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, told IRIN that’s because the bulk of government programmes rarely reach their intended target. They go instead to “political favourites and close associates of politicians,” he alleged.

For example, the CBN launched the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending in 2013 to increase access to bank credit.

But this year only 3,700 farmers out of 523,000 in Kano are on track to receive the loans. The vast majority are unaware of how to access the much-needed financing through NIRSAL, said Magaji.

Nigeria’s disconnected farmers have to rely on middlemen, reducing their profits, because of a broken value chain, inadequate storage facilities, and a lack of organised market information systems.

“Here, our farmers are left on their own,” said Jibrin Jibrin, director of the Centre for Dryland Agriculture at Kano’s Bayero University. “Economists from the World Bank will tell you not to protect the market, but the system doesn’t work for our farmers.”

Dangote’s rice and tomatoes

Dangote’s rice initiative is taking on some of these issues. Its “outgrower scheme” plans to provide inputs such as seeds and fertiliser, as well as training for nearly 50,000 medium and smallholder farmers who then provide their land and labour.

The company says it will pay the farmers the average market price for their rice at harvest, after recouping the cost of the inputs it provided.

But the majority of the smallholders who spoke to IRIN in Kano were unconvinced by the scheme. They doubted they would really get a fair price, and that they could meet the company’s quality control standards.

Some pointed to the failure of an earlier Dangote project, a $13 million tomato paste factory set up in Kano last year, as reason to be concerned.

The plant is currently lying idle even though it signed deals with some 5,000 farmers to supply the tomatoes that would be turned into an annual production of over 400,000 tonnes of paste. 

On paper it made perfect sense. Nigeria produces some 1.5 million tonnes of tomatoes each year, tomato paste is an ingredient in most Nigerian meals, and, with the government threatening to ban imported paste, a local factory seemed an investment winner.

But farmers were unable to produce the quality and quantity of tomatoes the state-of-the-art plant needed.

Firstly, a pest, the Tuta absoluta moth, wiped out much of the harvest. But then it was the same old underlying problems – a lack of fertiliser, poor irrigation, low quality seed, difficult roads and no cold storage – that really undermined progress.

The poverty of rural infrastructure means Nigeria’s post-harvest losses could be as high as $9 billion annually – much of that burden falling on small-scale producers.

Since the 1970s there have been a raft of high-profile government campaigns to fix agriculture. Incrementally, Nigeria seems to be slotting the pieces into place, but getting to the final stage – a country able to feed itself – still eludes policy-makers.

“I pity myself, I pity farmers, I pity the association, because we have a lot of problems,” said Magaji, Kano chair of the farmers’ union. “Sincerely speaking, we have a long way to go.”

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