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Towards the 2002 Johannesburg Summit: Economic Growth Vital for Solving Africa's Ills

Nairobi, 23 October 2001 - Encouraging small and medium-sized businesses will be a key to unlocking Africa's economic potential and steering the Continent onto a sustainable, healthy and environmentally sound course, a conference of African ministers has concluded.

Defeating poverty, fostering environmental protection, delivering a decent standard of living and retaining the brightest minds, can only be made possible if Africa's economy grows, they argue.

The ministers, meeting at a crucial regional conference which will feed into the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, next year, called for action on reducing national debts, scientific and technological support for agriculture and reform of international trading rules to allow exports from Africa greater access to world markets.

Otherwise the continent will continue to suffer unacceptably low levels of economic growth with its links to poverty, environmental degradation and ill-health.

The conclusions have emerged from the closing statement made by African ministers to the African Ministerial Preparatory Conference which has taken place in Nairobi, Kenya. It was hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and involved not only ministers but senior figures from organizations such as the Organization for African Unity and the African Development Bank, Non Governmental Organizations, Civil Society and industry.

Sekou Toure, Director of UNEP's Regional Officer for Africa, said: "The positive outcome of this conference is a major achievement which indicates the continent's readiness to play a constructive role during next year's Summit in South Africa and to make this new century, Africa's Century".

"Of critical importance was the number of participants and the level of attendance by ministers from planning, economic development and environment. In addition participants from the Industry Forum and the Civil Society/NGO forum were able to liaise with ministers and high level representatives from African governments".

Priority areas for action identified in the statement include:

Poverty: Poverty in Africa stands in marked contrast to the prosperity of the developed world. Fighting poverty requires tackling the underlining causes and the adoption of a comprehensive approach to address the key issues. These include removing the obstacles that are preventing access of exports from developing countries to the markets of the developed world; national debt reduction and cancellation and the promoting of industrial growth, particularly through small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Resources

The fact that the Continent's resources, such as timber, minerals and agricultural products, are rarely processed in Africa, is a major lost opportunity. So, it is urgently necessary to develop and foster industry to refine, turn raw materials into products and generally add value to Africa's resources before they are exported.

Agriculture and Food Security

Africa is has sufficient natural resources for food self-sufficiency. However, given the current levels of food production and the projected population growth, it appears that the existing levels of production will be insufficient. It is imperative, therefore, to reverse current trends of land degradation and transfer modern agricultural technologies to Africa at affordable prices.

The ministers resolved to increase national financing for the agricultural sector and called upon the international financial institutions and the Global Environment Facility among others to deliver the full implementation of the United Nations Convention Combat Desertification and other relevant conventions.

Human Development

The ministers acknowledged that Africa is straining under the burden of communicable diseases that are disabling the economy. The growing AIDS/HIV pandemic has become a serious threat to sustainable development. Many of these diseases have their roots in the environmental conditions under which people live and should, therefore, be incorporated in an overall poverty reduction/eradication, sustainable development and economic growth strategies.

Science and Technology

The ministers urged the international community to assist African countries to gain access to new technologies, particularly information and communications technologies. They also called for assistance to develop indigenous, African technologies, as an important component in the Continent's drive for sustainable economic development.

Johannesburg Vision

The ministers called on next year's Summit to back the Johannesburg Vision which will turn the political commitments made at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 into practical action including concrete steps, targets and timetables for the eradication of poverty and global inequality. They emphasized that that a Johannesburg Programme of Action, born out of this vision, must include partnerships between governments, business, industry, civil society and Non Governmental Organizations to realise the hopes and dreams of the African Century.

Notes to Editors. The African Preparatory Conference for the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio Plus 10, took place in Nairobi, Kenya, October 15 to 18, 2001. The Johannesburg Summit, WSSD, is scheduled for the first week of September 2002.

For more information please contact: Angele Luh, Information Officer, UNEP Regional Office for Africa, on Tel: 254 2 624292, E-mail: angele.luh@unep.org or Tore J Brevik, UNEP Spokesman/Director, Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 2 623292, E-mail: tore.brevik@unep.org

UNEP Information Note 01/34