Taking into consideration the resource base of the sub-region, the potential for collaboration to ensure economic development and integration is extremely vast. Additionally, this pillar has the greatest potential not only to reduce poverty, but to also improve the well-being and living standards of the population.
This pillar will therefore deal with issues related to food security, taking into consideration the global food crisis and its impact on the sub-region, trans-boundary forest and water basin management, trade promotion and industrial development, sustainable exploitation and management of the mineral resources, development of energy and power, transport infrastructure and telecommunication to fully support economic growth and development. For most of these programmes, a sub-regional approach will be adopted guided by the growth triangle/growth area concept.
A brief background is provided below for each of the sub sectors of this pillar:
Between 60-75 percent of the population in the sub-region relies on agriculture for their sustenance and survival. Food crops, cash crops, tubers and vegetable production constitute the major activities of farming households. Technological, production, infrastructure and marketing constraints seriously hamper productivity in this sector.
As a result, the sub-region is currently food insecure. Also, the 2008 food crisis resulted in riots in many countries, generating negative effects on the social, political and economic life of the populations. It is estimated that the sub-region spends US$800 million just to import rice per year to meet yearly consumption demand. A strategy for addressing the food situation on a sustainable basis recommends a medium and long-term approach to addressing the food crisis with primary focus on making rice not only a commercial crop but a instrument for poverty reduction in the sub-region.
Tran boundary Forest management
The Upper Guinea Forest Ecosystem is the third largest natural forest landscape in the world. Due to human activity geared towards sustenance and the exploitation of minerals in these forest landscapes by governments, the fauna and flora in these areas are under threat. They are now regarded as biodiversity hotspots and the need to protect and preserve the endemic fauna and flora is now a global concern. The MRU countries, collectively now possess the largest portion of the remaining Upper Guinea Forest Ecosystem and the conservation of this landscape can be beneficial not only to the MRU but the world at large.
Tran boundary Water Basin Management
The water resources of the sub-region are vast but underdeveloped, underutilized and poorly managed. The sub-region is blessed with abundant water resources with great potential for producing hydro-power, as well as for supporting agricultural productivity. In particular, the Mano River basin is shared among three of the four countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) of the Union. The Mano river therefore represents a common strategic resource in the sub-region. Managing the water resources in the sub-region should be one of the focus in the next 10 years. Reducing the competition for water for domestic use, agriculture and industrial purposes is crucial to avert possible conflict over the resource especially in border areas. The need to fully tap the potential of the water resources is long overdue.
Trade Promotion and industrial Development
It is fully recognized that the private sector has to take the lead if sustainable growth and development should take place in the sub-region. The current levels of formal trade among MRU countries is insignificant or modest and in recent times affected by sporadic policies and counter policies among member countries hampering cross border trade. Conclusions drawn from a private sector forum on the MRU countries indicate the need for the Governments to come up with laws, policies, regulations and incentives to attract investment; secure resources for the development of the sectors; and domesticate and implement provisions under the MRU and ECOWAS protocols on free movement and trade.
The Mineral Sector
The sub-region is endowed with rich mineral resources with gold, diamonds, iron ore, bauxite being the primary ones. These mineral endowments can be sources of vast revenue for governments as well as benefit communities in which they are located thus contributing to sustainable development. It is however unfortunate that none of the Member States can show tangible evidence of the benefits derived from the exploitation of the mineral resources. These deposits have further created and/or fuelled conflicts in this sub-region in particular.
These mineral deposits do not follow political boundaries but are rather located in mineral belts which cross country borders . Exploring approaches and strategies for developing these mineral resource corridors using common infrastructure, power sources and management, although challenging, can create opportunities for balanced growth and development as well as the attainment of the MDGs.
Sub-regional mining infrastructure clusters
Energy and Power
The provision of energy and power on a sustained basis is vital for national and sub-regional development. For Liberia and Sierra Leone which have emerged from devastating civil conflict, the lack of requisite energy and power is seriously hampering recovery, reconstruction and development initiatives. The lack of energy and power is also hampering investment due to increased investment costs in energy and power provision. In addition to national efforts to address this problem, a sub-regional approach is essential.
Transport infrastructure (roads, rail, air, sea) in the sub-region is poor thus posing serious challenges to increased productivity, free movement, trade and commerce, investment, overall socio-economic development and economic integration. Compounding the problem further is the lack of requisite and reliable transport and telecommunications infrastructure - poor roads network; lack of reliable air, rail and sea transport; and poor communications network. Accordingly, traveling within the sub-region, especially by air, is not only expensive due to lack of direct flights within and among Member States, but time consuming. The roads connecting the Member States, which could serve as the most reliable and affordable alternative, are deplorable and sometimes impassable during the rainy season. Even the Trans African Highway, which Member States committed to, is yet to be completed. Due to the extensive and porous nature of the borders, key roads need to be identified for construction to fully link the Member States to facilitate free movement, trade and commerce, as well as improve revenue generation. The rail network is practically non-existent. What existed in Liberia require rehabilitation and that in Sierra Leone was unfortunately removed long before the conflicts...
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