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The greening (?) of agriculture in Latin America

John Nash's picture

También disponible en español

For many of us, the word 'agriculture' evokes bucolic images of lush fields of grain and pastures populated by peacefully grazing cows. In this light, the notion of "greening agriculture'' seems almost oxymoronic; could anything be greener than this?

Well, maybe not in terms of color, but in terms of environmental impact, agriculture has a sizable footprint. In many countries, including large areas of the high-income countries, those lush fields of grain used to be forests. And the fertilizer that keeps those fields so green is mostly nitrogen based, generating nitrous oxide, which – kilo per kilo – has an impact on global warming several hundred times that of carbon dioxide. And those cows – how to put this delicately? – have greenhouse gases coming out of both ends! (Methane emitted by livestock is over 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.) And (surprise!) crops and livestock need water –lots of it. Agriculture accounts for around 70 percent of water use worldwide.

Urban Tipping Points - Important New Research on Roots of Violence

Duncan Green's picture

Cities are often violent places – a social, ethnic and religious tinderbox of people piled up together with competing needs for space, housing or cash. Mostly the tension is contained, but not always - when and why does it spill over into bloody mayhem? That’s the question at the heart of a fascinating research project run by Caroline Moser, one of my development heroes, and Dennis Rodgers. The research team fed back on its findings in Geneva last week. They have a draft overview paper here and welcome any comments by the end of June (as comments on this post, or if you want to get really stuck in, emailed to urbantippingpoint@Manchester.ac.uk). Here’s a summary of the discussion in Geneva.

The Urban Tipping Point scanned the literature and identified four ‘conventional wisdoms’ on the causes, not always based on much evidence: they are poverty; ‘youth bulges’ (demographic, rather than waistlines); political exclusion and gender-based insecurity. It decided to test these with empirical research in four very dissimilar cities - Nairobi (Kenya), Dili (Timor-Leste), Santiago (Chile) and Patna (India).

Why Students are Protesting all Over the World: Evidence From an RD in Chile: Guest post by Alex Solis

In the past year we have seen students in countries around the world protesting about the cost of higher education and lack of financial aid: Chilean students have been protesting for 7 months to change the overall educational financing system; Californians have occupied the UC Berkeley campus to protest fee hikes, and thousands of English students last year have taken part in protests against increases in tuition fees. Why is this happening all over the world?

Does psycho-social support to the chronically poor reduce poverty?

Jed Friedman's picture

Psycho-social well-being is a catch-all term that encompasses both psychological and social dimensions of life. This broad domain of welfare is typically correlated with traditional poverty measures – the economic poor also often exhibit low levels of psycho-social health and functioning. But does this correlation capture a causal relation running from low levels of psycho-social health to poverty? And, if so, can intervening in the psycho-social domain reduce poverty?

Can Disseminating Information Lead to Better Learning Outcomes?

Deon Filmer's picture

When my wife and I were looking for where to live in Washington DC, an important part of the decision was the quality of the local public school that our children would (eventually) attend.  But how to judge quality?  Talking to lots of people was the first step.  Taking schools tours was another.  But researching test scores was a key factor.  We wanted a school with a good learning environment, a sense that parents had a positive feeling about the place—but also wanted to know that the school had a track record of good learning outcomes.  Thankfully, the performance of public schools in Washington DC is accessible online and can be compared across schools.  This information was an important input into our decision.  And it remains an important way in which we monitor school performance.  We pay close attention to our own children’s academic development, talk to their teachers regularly, and try to be attentive to the many subtle indicators of the quality of education that they are receiving.  But the annually released test scores provide an externally validated stock-taking of one aspect of that quality.

The 10-Cent GPS

Holly Krambeck's picture

We know that technology is not a panacea, that gadgetry and software are not always the right solutions for our transport problems. But how do we know – really know -- when technology is truly the wrong way to go – when, say, using an old-fashioned compass is genuinely better than a GPS?

Thanks to blogger Sebastiao Ferreira, writing for MIT’s CoLab Radio, I have learned about an intriguing phenomenon in Lima, where entrepreneur data collectors, named dateros, stand with clipboards along frequented informal microbus routes, collecting data on headways, passenger counts, and vehicle occupancy levels. The microbus drivers pay dateros about 10-cents per instant update, and they use the information to adjust their driving speed.  For example, if there is a full bus only a minute ahead of the driver’s vehicle, the driver will slow down, hoping to collect more passengers further down the route. In informal transit systems, where drivers’ incomes are directly tied to passenger counts, paying dateros is a good investment (Photo from MIT CoLab Radio).

If you think about it, use of dateros could be more efficient than traditional schedule or GPS-based dispatch, because the headways are dynamically and continuously updated to optimize the number of passengers transported at any given time of day.  According to Jeff Warren (a DIY cartography pioneer), the dateros have been praised as the “natural database, an ‘informal bank’ of transportation optimization data.”

Does this little-known practice call into question our traditional prescription for high-tech solutions to bus dispatch?

Can Teachers Unions Change? Can The World Bank Change?

Emiliana Vegas's picture

In December 2006, I travelled to Santiago, Chile, with a small team to conduct consultations with education stakeholders on a study we were carrying out at the request of the Chilean Government to help them identify lessons from high-performing countries on how to strengthen the institutional arrangements for education quality assurance. I was the Task Team Leader (at the Bank this is the title of the Project Manager) and also heading the trip. I was joined by an external expert consultant, Joseph Olchefske who is a former Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools and was during this period at the American Institutes for Research, and a Junior Professional Associate, Erika Molina. Among the round of meetings we held with all stakeholders ranging from government officials (legislative and executive), business sector leaders, think- tanks (both from the right and left of the political and economic spectrum), student organizations, academic leaders, and opinion leaders, we met with the leaders of the national Teachers Union, the Colegio de Profesores.

Quality Education is Unfinished Homework for Latin America, says World Bank's VP for the Region

Christine Horansky's picture

In conjunction with the Ibero-American Summit this month, Pamela Cox, Vice President for Latin American and Caribbean, emphasizes the urgent need to focus on education quality in a recent op-ed that appeared in major news outlets across the region:

If education were simply a matter of attending classes, Latin America and the Caribbean would have already done its homework. Most regional countries have made enormous progress towards achieving universal access to basic education. There is also clear progress at the secondary and tertiary levels.

But more than access, the key goal of education is learning. Making sure that children and youngsters perform according to the requirements of the day is a necessary condition for the advancement of society. In that respect, the region still has some unfinished business. 

 


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