12 September 2012

Africa Needs a New Agricultural Revolution, Says UN Development Chief

Cotonou — Africa should reinvest in agriculture as a way to create jobs for youth and women said the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark, during her three-day official visit to Benin.

"Africa needs a new agricultural revolution," said Helen Clark at the inauguration of the National Songhai Center, an incubator for agribusiness - and youth entrepreneurship, with Benin President Yayi Boni. "I hope that this kind of training can be multiplied many thousands of times over so agriculture in Africa can feed its people."

Helen Clark is on an official visit to Benin to highlight that country's peace and stability in a region where recent developments have reversed the course of democratic and development gains.

"We need women and youth to be engaged in and enthusiastic about using Africa's fertile land to boost its agricultural production," said Helen Clark. "By empowering young people, Benin is investing in its most valuable asset."

Supported by UNDP, the Songhai Center is a hub for training, production, research, and development of sustainable agricultural practices in Benin as a means to create decent jobs for youth and women. The center advocates the use of a hybrid of traditional and modern agricultural practices combined with management courses and communal responsibility to propel its graduates into agriculture.

Currently only 17 percent of arable land in Benin is being cultivated.

The newly inaugurated hub forms part of six centers working to increase agricultural production, increase productivity, and create productive employment for up to 10,000 youth per year.

"Young people around the world ask for nothing more than to have opportunity, a chance to get ahead, to be able to express their opinions, and contribute to their families and their community."

According to International Labour Organization's figures, more than 87 percent of Beninese youth work in the informal sector, and the country is also struggling to curtail child labor.

While in Benin, Helen Clark met with President Yayi Boni, Prime Minister Pascal I. Koupaki, and other key ministers to discuss the implementation of Benin's long term development plan to increase that country's competitiveness by fostering business investment, strengthening the role of local communities and the institutional framework of the agricultural sector, and modernizing the port and other critical infrastructure.

"A well-performing port at Cotonou has the potential to be very important in the economy of the country because Benin is an entry point of the landlocked economies to the north," she said.

On democratic governance, she spoke about the process underway to strengthen Benin's electoral process.

"UNDP has played an important role in supporting Benin's electoral system, and we look forward to the parliament finalizing the steps to have the electoral system fit for purpose for the local elections next year," said Helen Clark.

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