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The occasion of the 25th Regional Conference for Africa of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, By Anna K. Tibaijuka UN Under- Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN-HABITAT and Director General, UN Office at Nairobi (UNON)
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Your Excellency President Mwai Kibaki of the Republic of Kenya,
Honourable Ministers,
Honourable Representatives of the Parliamentary Committees of the Republic of Kenya,
Dr. Jack Douf, Director General FAO
Ms. Anne Nyikuli, Permanent Representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour to welcome you back to our UN headquarters here in Gigiri Mr. President.
And, it is a great pleasure to have you joined here today by so many distinguished members of the Government of Kenya.

It being the first occasion you have visited us since your re-election and formation of the coalition government, let me also take this opportunity to extend my congratulations to you and your government on the progress you have made.

It is a privilege for us to welcome also our colleagues and all the experts gathered here today for the 25th Regional Conference for Africa of the Food and Agriculture Organization. We thank you most heartily for choosing Nairobi as the venue for this meeting. Karibu!

Mr. President, we are gathered here just little over a week after the tragic deaths in an air crash of two members of the Kenyan government, the Roads Minister, Honourable Kipkalya Kones, and the Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, Honourable Lorna Laboso. Let us observe a minute of silence now for them.

[Thank you.]

Mr. President, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

This gathering here is of great significance because it comes at a time when the global food crisis has hit every corner of the world. Such is the concern, particularly here in Africa, that your deliberations are being closely watched.

The new urban era

Research by UN-HABITAT, the agency for urban development which I head, shows that half of humanity is today living in towns and cities. We have entered a new urban era. And it is projected that by 2030 two-thirds of humanity will be living in cities. We are living in a world of unprecedented, rapid, and irreversible urbanisation, with the most rapid rates of urbanisation occurring here in Africa.

In 1994, the urban population in Africa was approximately 172 million. By 2004 it had grown to 264 million. Our projections indicate that it will increase to 742 million by 2030. The annual urban growth rate in Africa is 4.87 percent, twice that of Latin America and Asia. Cities and towns in Africa are also growing at twice the growth rate of the rural population in Africa.

Urbanization, in itself, is not the problem in Africa. In fact, in most African countries, cities account for a large proportion of all economic activity.  Nairobi, with a population of about 2.6 million represents about 5 percent of the national population, but accounts for over 20 percent of the GDP. As we all, agree, there two sides to the development debate: one is ensuring growth, and the other is ensuring equitable benefits resulting from growth. Cities, in Africa are without the doubt the primary engines of growth. If managed properly, African cities and towns could make globalization work for every African woman, man and child.

There are many social, economic and environmental challenges associated with rapid urbanisation.  I will just mention three of them which are of direct relevance to your deliberations.

Climate Change

The first is climate change. It is no coincidence that climate change is emerging at the forefront of international debate at the same time, and virtually at the same pace, as the world becomes urbanized. With half of the world’s population living in cities, cities are already consuming 75% of the world’s energy and contributing to an equivalent proportion of all wastes, including green house gas emissions. The changing consumption patterns that come inevitably with urbanisation will thus continue to put pressure on the price of energy. This, in turn, will directly affect costs of transport and food.


The other challenge is the slum challenge. The number of slum dwellers has now reached the 1 billion mark. If present trends continue, this figure is likely to reach 2 billion by 2030. Today 71.9 per cent of urban Africans live in slums, variously known as shanty towns or bidonvilles. This figure is 46 percent for Asia and a little over 30 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean. The vast majority of slum dwellers in Africa live on less than two dollars a day and most of them lack access to safe water and decent sanitation. Recent studies have shown that urban poor are suffering levels of deprivation often worse than those experienced by their rural counterparts.  Indeed the very locus of poverty is moving to the cities.

And it is the urban poor that will suffer first and suffer most from rising food prices. This is because they rely almost exclusively on monetary means to buy food. At the same time, they also bear the brunt for rising costs for transport and energy.   

Right here in Nairobi, a resident of the Kibera slum earning less than two dollars a day pays as much as ten times the price paid by an average North American for a litre of water. School age children, especially girls, are often forced to trade education for water. Sanitation can be far more than a public health issue to a school girl: it determines her privacy, safety and dignity; it determines whether her potential to become a productive citizen in society will ever be fulfilled.

Changing food habits
Another issue related with urbanization is changing food habits. Urban populations depend particularly the poor depend on convenient foods such as rice and wheat based bakeries and confectionaries at the expense of using local staples that are more adapated to local conditions. The impact is ever rising food import bills while rural producers of domestic staples such as cooking bananas, cassava, sweet potatoes and other roots and tubers do not get adequate markets for their produce. The long term effect is for African countries to fail to cultivate and eat foods which are adapted to its own climate and wasting resources to produce exotic foods at great expense. This aspect of food insecurity is least understood but is very important and needs to be addressed with appropriate measures such as institutional feeding of traditional staples instead of over reliance on rice, maize and wheat products.

The urban-rural link

These grim facts tell us that urban and rural development policies must be closely linked. We no longer live in a world where we can afford to have different departments in national and local governments dealing with urban and rural matters as separate matters.

As we have seen, cities are undeniably the engines of economic growth. But they must also fulfil their role as engines of rural and agricultural development.

For this to happen we must invest in urban and regional infrastructure, and agricultural marketing systems. This is especially the case in Africa where investment in urban infrastructure, in ports and airports, in rail systems, in marketplaces, and in market intelligence has been lagging.

In a globalised world economy, the success of agricultural development policies depends to an increasing degree on the effectiveness and productivity of cities. Modern agriculture depends upon products and services generated by the city. Today, improvements in agricultural technology are found not in the filed but in urban universities and research laboratories. Modern agricultural research requires an integrated approach that calls upon high technology disciplines ranging from genetic engineering to climate change modelling.
Farm implements are manufactured in urban industrial zones. The ability to export farm produce in a global marketplace depends as much upon storage, packaging, transport, market intelligence, and international finance as upon the farmer.

In summary, if we are to boost Africa’s agriculture potential beyond subsistence levels, we must invest massively in our cities. We must have a vision of our cities as hubs of transportation and communication, of finance and administration, of markets and market intelligence. In short, the most useful investments we could make today for boosting Africa’s agricultural production for tomorrow is probably a combination of metropolitan transportation and the internet. We need to realize that Agricultural productivity is not possible without markets for rural surpluses. We need vibrant secondary town to absorb the rural surplus. Our Lake Victoria Water and Sanitation Initiative for Secondary towns is based on this philosophy, for example.

Local governments generally understand well how closely urban and rural areas are connected. But they need the backing of regional and national spheres of government to ensure that their initiatives are not blocked by sectoral policies or broad national strategies. The better the connections and infrastructure between urban and rural districts, the better people will live, and the better the employment opportunities.  This also reduces the risk of social unrest.

Mr. President, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

In concluding, my message is that many policies explicitly or implicitly aim to prevent change, and in the process create barriers. Urbanisation is the hope for Africa, both urban and rural. Urbanisation, if well managed, can make both urban and rural Africans more prosperous. But for this hope to be realised, we must begin to invest in the African city, to make the African city work for Africa’s agriculture and rural development.

Let us be lucid in our analysis, for our policies can only be as good as our diagnosis. Any lasting solution to the food crisis will therefore have to include more sustainable urbanisation – rural urban centres that will serve as a demand for farm surpluses and provide service centres for farmers.

I thank you for your kind attention.

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