28 May 2009African nations will be hit hard by the global economic crisis during the course of 2009, the United Nations and the African Union (AU) say in a new report, which stresses the need to focus on agriculture, the mainstay of economies on the continent. “Modernising agriculture is crucial to development and industrialisation in Africa, to food security, sustained poverty reduction and integration of Africa in the global economy,” says this year’s Economic Report on Africa.The report, an annual publication of the AU Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), calls for special attention to agriculture, since Africa is heavily dependent on this sector for providing employment, generating economic growth, foreign exchange earnings and tax revenue. “Agriculture is still the mainstay of economic development and yet a very neglected sector for decades in Africa,” Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division at the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), told reporters as he launched the report.He noted that Africa, which has the largest agricultural potential per hectare and per capita, is still a net food importer. “What Africa needs is a long-term focus on agricultural development and a transformation that would help further economic diversification, job creation and, through that, poverty reduction,” he said.The report, entitled “Developing African Agriculture through Regional Value Chains,” highlights the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), adopted by the AU in 2003. In the framework of the CAADP, it points to a strategy that creates regional value chains that link agriculture to other sectors of the economy as the best way to initiate and sustain development in Africa.These value chains will include forward and backward linkages, from agribusinesses, agro-processing, ethanol production, other industrial processes to soil management, high-yielding seed varieties and fertiliser production, according to the report. Lila Hanitra Ratsifandrihamanana of the AU noted that the theme of this year’s report not only tackles a major sector of the African economy, but is also relevant to the theme of the AU summit to be held in July in Sirte, Libya, which is investing in agriculture for economic growth and food security. The report adds that the impact of the global financial crisis has already resulted in lower demand for Africa’s export and a sharp decline in commodity prices. At the same time, it says that sustained economic reforms, exchange rate adjustment, easing of inflation and efforts to revive domestic demand will contribute to low but still positive growth rates in some African countries in 2009.
“HIV/AIDS: Awareness and Behaviour,” released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs on the first anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s special session on the disease, examines HIV/AIDS-related awareness and behaviour in 39 developing countries, including 24 in Africa, 7 from Asia and 8 from Latin America and the Caribbean.According to the report, HIV/AIDS campaigns have raised awareness in many developing countries, especially in urban areas, but do not appear to influence individual risk perception and behaviour. Even in countries where HIV prevalence is high, most people feel that their risk of contracting AIDS is low.The study also finds that women are generally less knowledgeable than men about HIV/AIDS, and attributes this gap to the status of women and the sensitivity of sexual matters in many cultures.As for information sources about the disease, radio was found to be the most important, with broadcast messages making a significant contribution to awareness and knowledge of the disease.Meanwhile among young people, schools have had limited impact on raising awareness and conveying a basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS, the study says. And, while considerable efforts have been devoted to promoting the use of condoms as part of HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns, condom use among couples remains low in affected countries.Speaking at a press briefing to launch the report at UN Headquarters in New York, a senior UN official said that enormous behavioural changes in the reproductive sexual practices of men and women were needed to deal with the increasing consequences of the epidemic.Responding to a question about the policy implications of the study, Joseph Chamie, Director of the UN Population Division, said that public awareness, a pragmatic approach and commitment from world leaders were crucial.Such commitment could be seen from the General Assembly, the UN Millennium Summit’s focus on AIDS and the Secretary-General’s emphasis on ensuring that people everywhere knew how to avoid infection, Mr. Chamie noted, calling for more research on how to effectively change behaviour, given the importance of informing people of the risks of contracting and spreading HIV/AIDS.