5 December 2007Nearly one dozen African nations have joined forces to participate in a United Nations-backed programme to bolster education and training in rural areas. At the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), representatives from 11 countries – Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Uganda, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania – last week agreed to identify areas of cooperation. Rural people comprise approximately 70 per cent of Africa’s total population and are expected to remain the majority over the next three decades. Education and training for rural people is key in sub-Saharan Africa’s fight against poverty, hunger, malnutrition and illiteracy. But for every 100 urban children who have access to primary education, only 68 do in rural areas, and for every 100 children who complete primary school in urban areas, only 46 of their rural counterparts do. The participating nations’ ministries of education, agriculture and rural development, among others, were asked to work together to design programmes reflecting local cultural and social values, as well as to collect and analyze statistics. Agencies such as the FAO and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were requested to boost their support for capacity-building and institutional strengthening of rural education. The two-day Rome meeting was a follow-up to a ministerial seminar in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, held in September 2005.