Recent increases in food and energy prices may undercut progress made by Africa ’s least developed countries (LDCs) since the turn of the millennium, and their economies need greater breadth and variety to cushion them from such shocks, experts said at a workshop in Addis Ababa.
The three-day UNCTAD Regional Workshop on Productive Capacities, Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction in African LDCs, was held in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Africa. For several years, UNCTAD has recommended that LDCs improve their abilities to produce a broader variety of goods, and goods of greater complexity and value – referred to as 'expanding productive capacity'. The organisation said that it was a way out of the boom–bust cycles and persistent poverty which have characterized LDCs for decades. Such an approach to sustainable economic growth is the focus of UNCTAD’s call for a New International Development Architecture for LDCs, unveiled in UNCTAD’s Least Developed Countries Report 2010.
The workshop was termed an important opportunity for African LDCs to prepare for the Fourth UN Conference on LDCs, to be held in Istanbul from May 9 to 13. Thirty-three of the globe’s 48 LDCs are in sub-Saharan Africa. Among those addressing the workshop were Junior Davis of UNCTAD’s Division for Africa, LDCs and Special Programmes; Jennifer Kargbo, deputy executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA); and Libère Bararunyeretse, ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Organisation International de la Francophonie. The gathering was attended by a wide range of officials from African LDCs, other African nations and donor countries.
Davis told the meeting that 'employment and export structures are still concentrated in a few sectors' of LDC economies, such as natural resource extraction. “The resilience of African LDC economies has been tested by recent price hikes in international energy and food prices, especially since 2007," he said, warning that 'part of the progress in reducing poverty achieved in recent years may have been reversed in spite of the notable efforts undertaken by governments to contain the hikes.'
He and other speakers said that LDC governments also should study carefully their increasing economic ties with other developing countries, such as China and India, to ensure that stable, effective economic growth results. In addition, officials said greater attention needs to be paid to improving infrastructure in LDCs – such as roads, railroads, ports and electricity supply – to remove constraints to broad-based economic progress.
They also urged attention to boosting domestic agriculture, domestic savings, and the development of small- and medium-sized businesses in African LDCs. The Addis Ababa workshop followed a similar workshop for Asian LDCs held by UNCTAD on March 22 to 24 in Kathmandu.