LDCs make or break the SDGS: UNCTAD report

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The success or failure of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highly depends on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the next 15 years, a new report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said.
According to the report, LDCs- countries that are identified by the UN as structurally weak and poor economies, are the battle grounds to achieve the ambitious goals of the SDGs.
“The 2030 agenda for sustainable development really represents a paradigm shift. It also represents a steep change in ambition; during the MDGs it was all about proportion and reduction. Now, with the SDGs we are talking about eliminating the social problems that are listed in the goals. This is a very big task,” said Tesfachew Taffere (PhD), Director of the Division for Africa with UNCTAD Least Developed Countries and Special Programs.
Out of the 48 LDCs, 34 are found in Africa including Ethiopia. The rest are located in Asia and on small islands. The success of the SDGs will depend on the work that will be done in these countries because the bulk of poverty is concentrated in these territories.
“In some LDCs, the per capita income is as low as about between 10 and 20 cents a day. These countries need to reach the USD 1.25 baseline, if poverty is to be eliminated. For some LDCs, this means the per capita income needs to increase over 10 folds; this is a very big challenge,” Tesfachew pointed out. He also underlined that the rural working population will increase by 20 to 50 percent within the next 15 years,  presenting its own challenge.
UNCTAD’s report focuses on the need to transform rural economies in order to achieve structural transformation. The desired structural transformation refers to several things such as increasing productivity in farming, increased non-farming economic activities as well as transitioning on to producing value added products.
“There are several things that can bring about structural change. Increased agricultural productivity is one. Research shows that growth in agriculture, rather than general national growth, has more impact in reducing poverty. This is also why Ethiopia was able to reduce poverty. Non-farming rural economy is also extremely important,” Tesfachew said.
“When you increase productivity, less and less people would be needed to farm and there needs to be a different kind of opportunity for those people. Then, moving onto producing value-added products is also another way to bring structural transformation,” Tesfachew lists the possibilities. He also stated that although non-farming economic activities are important in rural areas, it is underdeveloped in LDCs.
There must be employment opportunities for young people in rural areas that no longer want to farm. If that is not provided, they would migrate to urban areas or migrate to different countries. This neither contributes to the development of the rural community nor would it contribute to the development of the country itself.
“We’ve tried to look at this issue and what we have found is puzzling. Looking at Ethiopia, for example, during 1980 to 1990, 36 percent of the income of the rural area originated from non-farming activities. But by 2012, it is only 9 percent. Why it declined, we are not sure but this is what available data shows,” Tesfachew said.
The report also shows that a lot of non-farming economic activities are generated by people that are desperate for income because they are not earning enough; they go into it by necessity. But what is needed for meaningful transformation is people who go into non-farming business on their choice. 
“The government will need to encourage entrepreneurship by choice rather than by necessity. It is not that non-farming activities don’t exist, it’s because most of it is a supplementary income activity, rather than one that generates a vibrant economy and is able to employ others,” Tesfachew explains.
He further said that, the eradication of poverty, given recent history, is very ambitious. Between 1990 and 2015, poverty level in LDCs as a group which means people living under the 1.20 dollar line, falls from around 65 percent to around 53 percent.
“It was not even reduced by half in the last 25 years. How could we assume they will bring it to zero in 15 years, especially at a time where the global economy is still struggling.  In short, achieving it is going to be a struggle,” Tesfachew comments.
The report paints an outlook of the SDGc for the coming years. Although, the SDGs are far-fetched targets to achieve, the report argues that they can be achieved, but it would require a balanced approach to agricultural upgrading and the development of a vibrant rural, non-farming economic activities.