2012 Forum: Latin American and African ministers discuss boosting cooperation and funding pro-poor social policies


Around 40 social development ministers and government representatives from more than 15 Latin American and 13 African countries today started in Brasilia, Brazil, a three-day forum to exchange experiences—and increase cooperation—to reduce poverty.

“There is much experience to share between Latin America and Africa on the eradication of poverty and hunger, and not least through social protection systems,” said Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), at the opening session of the Fifth Ministerial Forum on Development, that has brought together representatives from both regions to discuss significant achievements in reducing inequality and boosting sustainable development.

“This week’s discussions encourage even greater co-operation between the nations of both continents,” she added.  “Such exchanges and South-South cooperation highlight development solutions which, adapted to national contexts, can help nations achieve their goals.”

The meeting takes place less than a month before the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, during which world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, and civil society organisations will discuss how to build a more sustainable future—a crucial challenge for developing and developed countries alike.  

“We will only be able to overcome poverty with political will and social investment,” said Tereza Campello, Brazil's Social Development Minister.  “In that sense, the international representatives gathered here today are extremely engaged to cooperate to curb poverty and inequality.”

Forum participants agreed that tackling inequality and poverty reduction need to be at the heart of economic and fiscal policies. This also means identifying sources of growth and employment to bring the poor into the economy while investing in people—through education and skills training, health services and nutrition.

“The government expenditure on pro-poor sectors like education, health, agriculture and water now takes up nearly 70 percent of the total government expenditure,” said Ahmed Shide, Minister of Finance and Economic Development of Ethiopia. “This indicates our high commitment and practical actions to reduce poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.”

One of the key topics for discussion at the Forum is the role of sound fiscal policies to sustain social programmes.   Government representatives from both continents also placed special emphasis on redistribution of income and assets, including through social protection schemes such as the ones taking place in Latin America.

The region is a worldwide leader in social programmes that give financial aid to people living in poverty on the condition that they their children stay in school and they keep up with vaccines and medical checkups. These schemes are among the principal means of poverty reduction for 18 countries in the region.

In Latin America over 25 million families – some 113 million people - representing 19 percent of the population, have benefited from such social programmes. Despite their wide penetration, spending on these schemes represents an average of only 0.4 percent of GDP among the countries of the region, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Programmes like Brazil’s Bolsa FamiliaChile Solidario and Mexico’s Oportunidades include initiatives that range from granting direct financial aid and to low-income populations, to supporting subsistence and creating water cisterns in semi-arid areas. Forum participants agreed that such initiatives are crucial examples for boosting Africa’s sustainable development.

The Forum is organised annually by UNDP’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean with the support of the Spanish International Aid and Development Agency.

This is the first time the meeting takes place outside UN headquarters in New York—and the first time African ministers are engaged in the social policies discussions. This year’s Forum results from a partnership with the Government of Brazil.