Finance, agriculture, and rural development ministers from 163 member states are attending the annual governing council of the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome.  The theme of this year's meeting is ?Make Rural Poverty History.? 

Representatives from the International Fund for Agricultural Development's member states are focusing their two-day discussions on rural poverty.  About 900 million people, 75 percent of the world's 1.2 billion extremely poor, live in rural areas.

The U.N. body believes Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty cannot be achieved unless investment is channeled into supporting people in rural communities.

In an opening address, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called for the Rome-based IFAD to broaden its mandate in Africa to help the agriculture sector of poorer countries.

Rural poverty eradication has been at the center of the Ugandan government's policies, which have supported efforts to modernize agriculture.  Today, Uganda is one of three African countries to have seen sustained economic growth during the past 15 years.

President  Museveni said IFAD had done a commendable job in increasing production in rural areas.  But he added there must be integration of production, storage, transporting, value-added processing, and marketing within the home country, regionally and internationally. 

"If you only increase production, but you do not process and you do not market, then what will happen is that in some of these small economies there will be overproduction,? he said.  ?You bring improved seeds of maize, the yield goes up, there is more maize, there is no processing, there is no marketing.  The price collapses."

One European country that has built a strong partnership with IFAD is Belgium.  Addressing delegates, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said rich nations must help to create a sustainable development policy in Africa.

"The fact that there is still such a high degree of poverty in Africa, on the African continent, is in fact a shame for humanity and for the rich countries," said Mr. Verhofstadt.

Mr. Verhofstadt noted that 35 years ago the United Nations called for countries to allocate less than one percent of their gross domestic product to development cooperation, but few had managed to achieve that.

The Belgian prime minister said he would underline the need to make the fight against poverty in Africa a top goal for Europe and the United States at a meeting with EU leaders and President Bush next Monday in Brussels.