"Education is the most effective way to empower the rural poor to get out of poverty and to ensure that the Millennium Development Goals are met in sub-Saharan Africa," according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
In a paper to be presented at a ministerial seminar in Addis Ababa (7-9 September 2005), the UN agency underlines the critical role of agriculture and highlights the important contribution of education for sustainable development and for eradicating poverty and hunger in rural areas.
"Illiteracy is a correlate of poverty and hunger and is mainly a rural phenomenon which hinders rural development and food security, threatens productivity and health and limits opportunities to improve livelihoods -- particularly for rural girls and women," FAO education expert Lavinia Gasperini said.
"Since the vast majority of the population in sub-Saharan Africa are rural, and since agriculture is a key sector for rural development and economic growth, more efforts are needed in educating the rural poor and helping them to apply improved technologies to make small-scale farming viable and profitable," Ms. Gasperini added.
She indicated that the Addis seminar will gather, for the first time, ministers of education, agriculture, fisheries and rural development from several African countries, in addition to representatives from NEPAD, the African Union, civil society organizations and bilateral and multilateral development bodies such as the ILO, Oxfam, UNESCO, UNICEF, the Italian, Swiss and Dutch Cooperation agencies as well as the World Bank.
African countries expected at the Addis meeting are Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.
The meeting is organized by FAO, UNESCO's International Institute for Education Planning (IIEP) and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) in partnership with Ethiopia's Ministry of Education and with the support of the Italian Development Cooperation (DGCS) and the Norwegian Trust Fund for Education in Africa (NETF).
FAO is the lead UN agency for the global education for rural people initiative.
Gender disparity and discriminatory policies against women are the main problems faced by development agencies in poor countries. Helping to eliminate disparities and promoting equality and better lives for women and their families are FAO's main concerns, according to Marcela Villarreal, Gender and Population Division Director at the UN agency.
While more than 70 percent of Africa's population still lives in rural areas, women produce up to 80 percent of food in countries where agriculture is still labour-intensive, according to FAO.
"The target of eliminating gender disparity in education is crucial for achieving the third Millennium Development Goal, which promotes gender equality. It can only be achieved by a special effort to ensure equitable access to quality education for girls and women in rural areas, where most illiterate people are found," Ms. Villarreal added.
During the Addis ministerial seminar, participants will discuss the current situation of education for rural people in sub-Saharan Africa and ways and means to improve it. The main purpose is to encourage policymakers to join forces in promoting education in rural areas. More cooperation will be required between education, agriculture, fisheries and rural development ministries to achieve education for all.
Another goal of the meeting is to promote dialogue between countries and reinforce national and regional partnerships for education for rural people.
It is expected that participants will adopt priority policy actions and a declaration underlining that education for rural people is essential for the achievement of the education for all goals and the Millennium Development Goals.