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Africa: working out of poverty

Today, Africa is working to find a way out of poverty. At the Extraordinary Summit on Employment and Poverty Alleviation in Ouagadougou in September 2004, many African heads of state and government formally adopted a Declaration making the job creation a prime objective for reducing poverty. This month, the ILO Governing Body is discussing the same issue. But how are these declarations being received in the fields of Africa. ILO Online provides two examples.

Article | 17 November 2004

OUAGADOUGOU – Not far from this bustling city, Paul Nikiema and his wife Pauline Ilboudo farm the land in Saaba province. Bringing up their eight children means hard work every day and caring for the health of their large family.

Until recently, they faced enormous financial problems when medical treatment was needed. Even worse, Paul had to stop working in the fields to accompany his children to the nearest medical centre loosing vital income that day.

But times have changed, and today the entire family belongs to the mutual benefit fund "Laafi la bumbu" ("health above all"). Since March 2004, the fund has been available to the population living in the 13 villages of Saaba province, 15 km from the capital Ouagadougou.

Until now, social protection was non-existent in this agricultural region where families earn just enough to subsist. A program was needed allowing the villagers to accede to health services and the emerging social protection system.

"Laafi la bumbu"

The good fortune of the farming families of Saaba is representative of new approaches being taken to improving the lives of people across the continent. A new consensus exists to find ways to create new jobs, spur development and improve living standards.

Such efforts come at a time when the situation on the continent remains critical. Millions of Africans, in particular women and youth are unemployed. And poverty exacerbates the situation: 33 out of the 55 poorest countries of the planet are to be found in Africa.

Priority is given to agriculture, rural development, infrastructure, small and medium-sized enterprises, the informal sector which represent labour-intensive fields of activity, according to African leaders.

For Africa the message is clear: employment creation is vital if the UN Millennium Development Goals, aimed at halving poverty between now and 2015, are to be attained.

All the more reason to promote health as one way of fighting poverty and improving development. In Burkina Faso, as in many African countries, "farmers cannot become ill as they make a living by tilling the soil", says Gabriel Compaoré, coordinator of the ILO STEP (Strategies and Tools against Social Exclusion and Poverty) programme in Burkina Faso.

Thanks to the programme, each family in this region has access to the services provided by a mutual health fund: all that's needed is an initial payment of CFA 1,000 (the equivalent of about 2 US dollars) for each group of ten members of the family. On top of this entry fee, each beneficiary must pay an annual membership fee of CFA 200.

"In exchange for that sum, beneficiaries have the right to four medical consultations a year", says Mr. Compaoré. "The national average, in fact, is 0.2 contacts a year".

Denne Saidou, a male nurse in the local medical centre, adds that the mutual health fund allows for a quality treatment taking account of patients' specific needs.

An ILO-FAO partnership fostering employment and fighting hunger

On 8 September, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia and his counterpart from the FAO, Jacques Diouf, visited the mutual benefit fund, to meet the beneficiaries of projects supported by both UN agencies.

Not far from the venue of the Extraordinary Summit on Employment and Poverty Alleviation of the African Union in the capital of Burkina Faso, the two UN agency heads also wanted to put into practice the recommendation of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization on better coordination of activities implemented by the international system.

In Saaba, the two directors met with representatives of the mutual health fund and members of the local development organization ASMADSE (Association Songui Manegré/Aide au Développement Endogène). According to Dieudonné Kaboré, the representative of ASMADSE, the challenge will be to enlarge the existing system that is still limited to local medical centres.

From Saaba, the two agency heads went to Ladwenda, where FAO projects are being launched to improve nutrition through the creation of new irrigation systems, better crop production, livestock breeding and agroforestry.

"The two projects, which target the same population, complement each other", says Mr. Somavia. "The productivity of these agricultural workers will improve thanks to the new irrigation techniques introduced by the FAO, but also due to the presence of the Fund which will enable them to look after themselves properly and thus continue to work, to earn and to fight poverty".

At the end of the day, the two Director-Generals signed a protocol agreeing to intensify their collaboration in the field and develop joint activities "focusing on populations, for sustainable development and fair globalization".