Development of local government - a key to poverty reduction in rural Africa

Development of local government - a key to poverty reduction in rural Africa

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Otzen, Uwe
Briefing Paper 5/2002

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

In sub-Saharan Africa some 80% of the poor live in rural areas and derive most of their incomes, whether in kind or in cash, from agriculture; economic development that is based on agriculture and benefits the mass of the population and the building of development-oriented local government structures providing a wide range of services are therefore essential if poverty is to be reduced.Both aspects have been repeatedly overlooked because of erroneous assessments of the employment, economic linkage and value added potential of peasant farming and the disdain in which the development-promoting significance of rural communities is held; since the 1980s international development cooperation has, moreover, increasingly shifted the emphasis in its promotion to physical and social infrastructure and the service sectors, principally in the industrial and urban sphere.At the same time, there has been a growing realization that the task for rural and agricultural development to proceed sustainably and have the effect of reducing poverty will become a complex, cross-sectional one; this can no longer be performed with conventional approaches to development based on project aid; this is equally true of all globally designed action programmes that influence sustainable agricultural and rural development, such as the implementation of Agenda 21, the plan of action to implement the Desertification Convention, the World Food Summit Plan of Action and the implementation of the poverty reduction strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.From these facts, omissions and findings it must be concluded that poverty reduction in all Africa's agricultural countries should be achieved primarily through agriculturally based development, in which local government must play a role in promoting local economic development, coordinating the intersectoral activities and bridging the service gap between national and local level; this can be achieved only by means of gradual political, institutional and fiscal decentralization.As the rural communities will have to bear the main administrative burden of poverty-reducing development in the future, they must be sustainably strengthened with national and international support; a beneficial agricultural policy environment, realignment of international development cooperation and jointly financed and democratically controlled district development funds are prerequisites for broad-based, poverty-oriented rural development.

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