By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK The first ever Khomas Regional Rural Development Conference got under way in the capital yesterday. The conference is part of the decentralisation process. The weeklong conference, which ends on Friday, follows a series of similar regional rural development conferences that were conducted in all 13 regions of the country. The main thrust of the deliberations by the more than 120 participants from the Khomas Region is the goals and objectives of rural development. The overall concept of rural development is viewed as crucial in terms of alleviating poverty, unemployment and most importantly empowering rural communities to stand on their own through decentralisation. In June this year, President Hifikepunye Pohamba during his address to senior government officials reiterated the importance of rural development. “In order to curb the increasing rural-urban migration, development must be expanded to the rural areas, especially improvement of infrastructure, such as feeder roads, rural electrification, telecommunications and skills development,” said the Head of State at the time. Said Pohamba: “Services such as access to information, e-governance and micro-credit facilities must be introduced to rural communities, and the provision of education and healthcare must be strengthened.” All that now remains is for all stakeholders to re-look at the definition of rural development and the implementation process. Conference participants will focus on reaching an understanding on key responsibilities and role players, initiate wider consultations, agree on common objectives and, amongst others, discuss and agree on common objective targets, priorities and programmes for rural development. Officially opening the conference, Khomas Regional Governor Sophia Shaningwa said although the commitment lies with regional councils to spearhead the rural development process, it also requires the efforts of all stakeholders to ensure its implementation. “Rural development is cross-sectoral as it encompasses various issues which cannot be dealt with in isolation. It requires joint efforts from various stakeholders,” said Shaningwa. Such a scenario should also be in line with the ongoing developmental goals of Vision 2030 and National Development Plan 3. Following the relocation of the function of Rural Development to the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development on March 21st 2005, the Ministry together with the 13 regional councils decided to host regional conferences on rural development in order to define the function and development strategies. To make this a reality, the Ministry committed N$780 000 to fund all the 13 regional conferences on rural development. What makes the quest for rural development essential is the achievement of sustainable development for rural communities. This notion is in turn in line with the overall decentralisation process of empowering the rural poor. Conference participants will be discussing various issues around the creation of an enabling environment for rural development, identify regional rural development issues as well as look at the various rural development activities planned and conducted by the various ministries. The more than 120 participants at the weeklong conference comprise representatives from the regional councils, non-governmental organisations, ministries, agencies, the private sector, unions and community-based organisations.