Integrating the local and global urban agendas

By David Simon, Director, Mistra Urban Futures, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden

In October, world leaders will gather in Quito for the Habitat III summit to launch the New Urban Agenda. This is on top of the start this year of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is odd that to date these two vitally important global urban initiatives led by the United Nations have been kept separate. It would be far more logical and extremely valuable, however, to link them by using SDG 11, the urban goal, as a monitoring and evaluation framework for the New Urban Agenda. A specific comparative urban experiment conducted last year could serve as a model for achieving just such a link.

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Nourrir sa population constitue le principal secteur d’activité de l’économie de l’Afrique de l’Ouest

par Laurent Bossard, Directeur, Secrétariat du Club du Sahel et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CSAO/OCDE)

(English version follows)

Cover image FREn inaugurant la nouvelle collection  « Notes Ouest-africaines » du Secrétariat du CSAO/OCDE, T. Allen et P. Heinrigs nous proposent une réflexion sur les opportunités de l’économie alimentaire de la région. Une occasion utile et nécessaire de se tourner vers le passé pour mesurer l’ampleur des mutations du monde réel… et de celles des idées.  

Je fais partie de ceux qui ont l’âge de se souvenir de l’agriculture ouest-africaine – sahélienne en particulier – au milieu des années 1980. Nous constations – déjà – la puissance de la croissance démographique. Entre 1960 et 1985, le nombre de sahéliens avait doublé et la population urbaine avait été multipliée par cinq. Et l’agriculture ne suivait pas le rythme. Abstraction faite des aléas climatiques (on sortait de la grande sécheresse de 1983), la tendance sur 25 ans était à l’augmentation des importations à un rythme de l’ordre de 8% par an. Jacques Giri dans son livre « Le sahel face aux futurs » paru en 1987, tirait la sonnette d’alarme : « Le système de production alimentaire sahélien est demeuré très traditionnel dans son ensemble, très vulnérable à la sécheresse et peu productif : il ne s’est adapté ni en quantité, ni en qualité, aux besoins (..). La région est de plus en plus dépendante de l’extérieur et en particulier de l’aide alimentaire. Le retour à des conditions climatiques plus favorables n’a pas fait disparaître cette dépendance ».  Continue reading

A 21st century vision for urbanisation

By Dr Joan Clos, Executive Director, UN-Habitat

UrbanRuralWorldIf urbanisation is one of the most important global trends of the 21st century, with some 70% of the world’s population forecasted to live in cities by 2050, then urbanisation in Africa – and the ways in which that growth occurs – marks one of the most significant opportunities for achieving global sustainable development.

By 2050, cities in the developing world will absorb more than two billion new urban residents, representing 95% of global urban growth. African cities will take the lion’s share, in some cases increasing twice as fast as any other urban population worldwide. By mid-century, the urban population in sub-Saharan Africa alone is expected to quadruple, ushering in 1.15 billion new urban residents. How Africa prepares for its urban future will have far-reaching social, economic and environmental impacts – not only for the continent, but also for the world.  Continue reading

Appeasement Politics of Delhi’s Urban Governance

By Shailaja Chandra, Former Permanent Secretary of the Government of India and former Chief Secretary, Delhi; Former Executive Director, National Population Stabilisation Fund, India

Delhi is among the world’s top ten most populous cities with 18 million people. United Nations projections for 2025 predict that it will rank third, overtaking Sao Paolo, Mexico City, Dhaka, New York and Shanghai. Colossal challenges confront the city’s development, and finding money is the least of those problems. Delhi garners more resources than any other city in India, has the highest per capita income and wages, and boasts more private vehicles than the three metropolitans of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai combined. In early 2015, the new city government slashed the power tariff in half and provided 20 000 litres of free water for all residents — clearly affordable measures. Continue reading

Urbanisation, structural change and the food system: The crucial role of rural-urban linkages

By Cecilia Tacoli,  International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

Both urban and rural areas in West Africa are undergoing considerable transformation. As an ever greater proportion of the region’s population live – and will live – in urban centres, how can policies help ensure that rural residents are not ‘left behind’, and at the same time food production satisfies the needs of the growing urban population?

One theme of growing interest for policy makers is the potential role of rural-urban linkages in supporting inclusive and sustainable development that benefits both rural and urban people and enterprises. But what exactly do we mean by rural-urban linkages? Continue reading

African cities can be actors of structural transformation

By Arthur Minsat, Economist, OECD Development Centre

African nations are exploring how best to harness the potential of cities as agents of change to achieve progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The current African Economic Outlook (AEO), jointly produced by the African Development Bank, the OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Development Programme, warns that policy makers and donors too often are blind to the territorial realities of the economies they are trying to help develop. Economies are seen as sectors rather than places. And thus sectoral lenses tend to limit policy action to a few specific tools, regardless of the complexity of problems that demand a place-based, multi-sectoral and participatory approach.

Cities are a case in point. Most African countries structure their Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) around governance, economic growth and infrastructure but disregard regions or places. The Agence française de développement found that out of 30 African countries with PRSPs, only three – Djibouti, Guinea and Senegal – have urban strategies with relatively well-defined budgets.[1]

And yet the pace of urbanisation in sub-Saharan Africa is among the fastest in history. Africa took 50 years to urbanise from 15% to 40%, whereas Europe took 110 years to achieve the same rate of urbanisation between 1800 and 1910.[2] The rapid diffusion of urban lifestyles, together with increasing access to new technologies, is changing African societies.[3]

Consequently, while we are generally aware that urbanisation profoundly transforms African societies, too little attention is paid to cities as actors of development and structural transformation. This is all the more important in Africa’s case since what we think we know about the link between industrialisation and urbanisation is challenged both by the diversity and uniqueness of the continent’s experiences. How?

First, many sub-Saharan countries in particular have been experiencing urbanisation without industrialisation. In those cases, cities play a major role as places of consumption but often not as places of production of tradable goods. Sub-Saharan African countries have not reduced urban poverty as rapidly as East Asian ones that are going through structural transformation: about 43% of African city dwellers live below USD 1 per day, and 62% live in slums.[4] The informal economy’s workforce is estimated to account for 61% of urban employment and 93% of all new jobs created. Some categories of population are particularly vulnerable: for women in Africa, the informal economy is estimated to represent 92% of all job opportunities outside of agriculture, overwhelmingly as self-employment or own-account work.[5] This raises several questions. How can we put in place policies that help accelerate the pace of industrialisation? What should such transformation look like in cases where industry will play a lesser role than it did in the European, American or East Asian transitions?

Second, urbanisation in Africa is not coinciding with a decrease in rural population in all countries. Northern Africa, South Africa and a number of small island states like Mauritius or Cabo Verde are more advanced in their demographic transitions. They have experienced strong urbanisation rates, with declines in rural populations. But in most countries, both urban and rural populations are increasing fast in absolute terms. This is a different dynamic from the rural exodus experience that many developed economies experienced. The majority of Africa’s population is likely to remain rural until the mid-2030s, while the majority of the world’s population has lived in urban areas since 2007. Even beyond the mid-2030s, the rural population will continue to grow in absolute terms.

Third, and related, the largest part of the population growth in sub-Saharan African cities is natural. In other words, the increase is due to high fertility rates rather than migration from rural areas. So, unlike OECD and East Asian experiences of urbanisation associated with fast declining fertility rates, in sub-Saharan Africa you have fast urbanisation with slowly declining fertility rates. To illustrate, at current natural growth rates, a family of 4 rural migrants in 1960 becomes a family of fifty urbanites in Africa in 2010, compared to a family of thirty urban dwellers in Asia. This means the needs for urban investment are higher in Africa than in Asia, although African cities are less wealthy than Asian ones.[6]

So what should proactive urbanisation policies look like in such differing contexts? What is the optimal size of mega cities before the costs of congestion exceed the benefits of agglomeration? How can multi-level governance be improved? How can the power of mayors be enhanced to deal with increasingly complex challenges on the ground? These are some of the issues that we explore in the forthcoming African Economic Outlook 2016.

We want to explore these questions by comparing Africa’s experiences with country experiences from Asia, Latin America and Europe. Nurturing sustainable cities in Africa to facilitate structural transformation will be the centrepiece of several international discussions. The subject will be front and centre in achieving the pan-African vision of Agenda 2063; in continuing the momentum gained with the African Common Position on the post-2015 development agenda regarding, in particular, SDG11 on cities and human settlements; and in furthering a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges of Africa’s urbanisation at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development scheduled for October 2016 in Quito, Ecuador. Indeed, now is the time to prepare for Africa’s unprecedented urban transition.

[1] Paulais, T. (2012), Financer les villes d’Afrique : l’enjeu de l’investissement local, World Bank and AFD, Washington DC, and Paris.

[2] Jedwab, R., L. Christiaensen, and M. Gindelsky (2015), “Urbanization, demography and development: Rural Push, Urban Pull and … Urban Push?”, Journal of Urban Economics, forthcoming.

[3] Losch, B., G. Magrin and J. Imbernon (2013), “A new emerging rural world: An overview of rural change in Africa”, in Atlas for the NEPAD Rural Futures Programme,Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), Montpellier.

[4] Paulais, T. (2012), Financer les villes d’Afrique : l’enjeu de l’investissement local, World Bank and AFD, Washington DC, and Paris. World Bank (2013), Global Monitoring Report 2013: Rural-urban Dynamics and the Millennium Development Goals, Washington DC: World Bank, (accessed 31 August 2015).

[5] Kessides, C. (2005), The Urban Transition in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction, Working Paper Series, No. 97, World Bank, Washington DC.

[6] Jedwab, R., L. Christiaensen, and M. Gindelsky (2015), “Urbanization, demography and development: Rural Push, Urban Pull and … Urban Push?”, Journal of Urban Economics, forthcoming.


This article should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD, the OECD Development Centre or of their member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed are those of the author.

The Milan Charter: What’s in it for West Africa?

By Donatella GnisciSahel and West Africa Club Advisor – Expo Milano 2015

The Milan Charter

If you agree that a lack of access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, clean water and energy goes against human dignity, will you join Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in signing the Milan Charter? The Charter, which is available in 19 languages, emphasises that one of the greatest ongoing challenges for humanity is feeding an ever-growing population, and doing so in participatory and inclusive ways, without harming the environment. To tackle this challenge, citizens, members of civil society, businesses, and local, national and international institutions, are invited to commit to safeguarding everyone’s right to food as a fundamental human right.

The Milan Charter is Expo Milano’s contribution to the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Through it, the Expo aspires to establish its central legacy. The Charter summarises a process of reflection that involved global experts and leaders. Together, they examined the linkages between development, equity and sustainability, urbanisation and agriculture, natural resources and biodiversity, health, waste and energy, and stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities. On the Charter’s website this complexity is broken down by topic, and by actor, so that readers can filter content and visualise the issues at hand, the rights that they refer to and the changes that the Charter argues are needed. These changes relate to prevailing production and consumption models, economic activities, political and citizen engagement and individual behaviours.

But what does the Milan Charter mean for West Africa? In my view, the Charter stresses three useful points.

1. In an increasingly urbanised world, agriculture is still of paramount importance.

The Charter reminds us that agriculture goes far beyond food production, involving landscape design, environmental and territorial protection, the sound management of natural resources and biodiversity conservation. As the West African regional agricultural policy adopted by ECOWAS in 2005 recognises, the transformation of agriculture in West Africa has important regional dimensions. This regional approach to agriculture is based on the complementarities between agro-ecological zones, the importance of intra-regional trade, the interest in creating larger markets for agricultural products and the desire to stabilise prices in a context of demographic and socioeconomic change. According to an OECD/SWAC study, agricultural producers accounted for 90% of the region’s population in 1950. By 2010, they made up only 50% of the population. Meanwhile, total agricultural production has increased fourfold over the last 30 years, while the importance of urban and peri-urban agriculture have both risen. For the Climate & Development Knowledge Network, urban and peri-urban agriculture have had positive effects on food security and resilience to climate shocks in West African cities, although their environmental impacts need more analysis. The production of primary commodities (e.g. cocoa, cotton, groundnuts and fishery products) coexists with a vibrant horticultural sector, reaching from Mauritania to Chad. However, challenges, capacities, market connectivity and opportunities vary across countries. So, signing the Charter will remind regional actors and partners that agriculture is crucial to West Africa’s sustainable development and food security, and that this makes the regional/national co-ordination of agriculture-related strategies, policies and programmes all the more important. The Charter rightly considers these within a broader context, where interventions in agriculture need to be linked to efforts to promote rural and urban development, improved natural resource management, and environmental protection.

2. Women’s empowerment and gender equality, and food and nutrition security are two sides of the same coin.

The Charter notes the lack of universal recognition of the fundamental role of women, especially in agricultural production and nutrition, and the unjustifiable inequalities in the possibilities, capabilities and opportunities of women and men in many spheres of life. West African countries rank poorly in the Gender Inequality Index calculated by the United Nations Development Programme: ranging from 119th for Ghana to 151st for Chad, out of 187 countries. Regional reduction of maternal mortality only reached 46% in 2014, meaning that the Millennium Development Goal 5’s target of  a 75% reduction by 2015 is beyond reach. Women’s empowerment is often a hot topic. It is presently high on the political agenda at the international level (2015 European Year for Development, the Sustainable Development Goals), on the continent (African Women’s Decade 2010-2020) and in West African countries (Beijing Platform for Action +20 implementation monitoring process). By signing the Charter, regional actors and partners will make their engagement in this complex agenda visible once more. What specific aspects should be prioritised in the West African context? How do we step up efforts to learn from experiences elsewhere?

3. Who is responsible, who is accountable?

The Charter gives a straightforward answer: We all have distinct but shared responsibilities to adopt sustainable behaviours, models of production and consumption, ways of using resources and approaches to waste disposal. Actions are proposed for individuals, economic actors and community members. The Charter points out that we are collectively responsible for holding political institutions that represent us accountable for inclusive decision-making, which must both benefit people and the planet. Institutions should commit to the adequate co-ordination of policies, programmes and efforts for resource mobilisation. This approach resonates well with the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) – Sahel and West Africa. Under the political leadership of ECOWAS and UEMOA, AGIR has nurtured multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral and multi-level approaches and partnerships, strengthening the resilience of West African people.

Amartya Sen signing the Milan CharterIn adding his signature to the Charter, Professor Sen reminded us that hunger “is above all an economic, political, cultural and health care problem”. That raises a compelling question: What is each and every one of us doing to solve it?

Donatella Gnisci, SWAC Advisor – Expo Milano 2015

26 May 2015