Entry: Bill Guyton
Last week, New York Times Reporter Celia Dugger wrote an interesting article highlighting how the development community is prioritizing agriculture in development plans. Specifc attention is placed on food crops, but tree crops, including cocoa, are an important source of income for millions of small scale farmers and their families.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the article below.
World Bank Report Puts Agriculture at Core of Antipoverty Effort
By CELIA W. DUGGER
For the first time in a quarter century, the World Bank's flagship annual report on development puts agriculture and the productivity of small farmers at the heart of a global agenda to reduce poverty. Three-quarters of the world's poor still live in the countryside.
The World Development Report , released yesterday, is the first on agriculture since 1982. Just a week ago, an internal evaluation unit chided the bank for its neglect of agriculture in Africa and its plummeting financial support for that sector over the past 15 years — support that did not begin to grow significantly until last year.
More broadly, the report crystallizes an emerging consensus among wealthy countries, philanthropists and African governments: Increased public investment in scientific research, rural roads, irrigation, credit, fertilizer and seeds — the basics of an agricultural economy — is crucial to helping Africa's poor farmers grow more sorghum, corn, millet, cassava and rice on their miniature plots.
Foreign aid for agriculture has plunged as support for global health and primary education has surged. The fight against AIDS and other diseases is keeping millions of people alive, and rising elementary school attendance is lifting literacy rates. But most poor Africans make their living in agriculture and need to grow more to feed themselves and earn their way out of destitution, many analysts say.
"We're not saying health and education aren't important," said Alain de Janvry, one of two authors of the report, "Agriculture for Development," who has taught agricultural economics at the University of California, Berkeley, for 40 years. "But if you look at Africa, there's no alternative to agriculture as a source of growth."
The World Bank is not the first to reach this conclusion. African governments, at a 2003 African Union summit, promised to more than double their own very low public spending on agriculture. In 2005, the United Nations Millennium Project, led by the Columbia University economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, advocated major investments to increase the productivity of poor farmers in Africa.
Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the Rockefeller Foundation to help bring a green revolution to Africa. The Gates Foundation, known for its work on global health, was motivated in part by an awareness that extreme poverty and malnutrition were underlying causes of much of the sickness and premature death plaguing Africa.
But the bank, the world's leading development institution and financier of antipoverty programs, plays a unique role in advising poor countries, and its return to agriculture is likely to influence practical policies across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where hundreds of millions of farmers and landless laborers are still mired in poverty.
The 365-page report was conceived before the arrival of the bank's new president, Robert B. Zoellick, but he embraced its themes yesterday in Washington, while acknowledging the recent critical evaluation of the bank's own performance.
"To make this successful, we're going to need to increase investment," he said at a forum that was shown live on the Web.
Robert S. McNamara, an earlier World Bank president, initiated the last period of ambitious investment in African agriculture, in the 1970s. Internal evaluations found that many of those projects and subsequent ones failed for a variety of reasons. Often, they were complex, devised and run by professionals from outside the countries being helped and not adopted wholeheartedly by poor countries that had little capacity to carry them out independently and, sometimes, little commitment to poor farmers.
In the 1980s, in the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the World Bank increasingly withdrew its support from agriculture and expected private markets to spur growth through competition. Bank officials even thought profit-seeking companies would build toll roads in remote parts of Africa.
But, as the recent internal evaluation found, private markets often failed to deliver a range of goods and services farmers needed, including improved seeds, fertilizer and credit.
In India's green revolution, which began in the 1960s with the introduction of new high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat, the World Bank, the United States and the Rockefeller Foundation encouraged the Indian government to play a pivotal role in the provision of seeds, fertilizer and credit, said Uma Lele, an agricultural economist who worked at the bank for 35 years and evaluated many of its agricultural programs before retiring. The Indian state also set floor prices for wheat and rice to ensure farmers a return on their investments.
In the effort to bring an agrarian revolution to Africa, much of the debate from now on will focus on the role that African governments should play in spurring farm productivity. Economists who have read the World Development Report said there was clearly still a great deal of ferment and disagreement within the bank about many of the particulars. For example, should African governments give farmers subsidies to buy fertilizer, and under what conditions?
The report notes that agricultural subsidies have a way of becoming deeply entrenched politically long after their original purpose has been served.
The report found, for example, that if European countries, the United States and other wealthy nations removed all tariffs and subsidies for cotton, soybeans and other oilseeds — practices that reduce the world price of those commodities and make it harder for unsubsidized farmers in poor countries to compete — developing countries' share of world trade in cotton and oilseeds would be more than 80 percent in 2015 instead of only about half.
Derek Byerlee, an agricultural economist with the bank who wrote the report with Professor de Janvry, said at a panel discussion yesterday that the United States' subsidies to cotton growers were "directly and negatively impacting African farmers."
Professor de Janvry said the report was not meant to settle the complicated and difficult policy questions, but "to change the conversation."