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Commitment to reforms improves business climate in South Asia

Hartwig Schafer's picture
 
Rikweda, an Afghan fruit processing company in the Kabul Province is well on its way to restoring Afghanistan as a raisin exporting powerhouse—a status the country held until the 1970s when it claimed about 20 percent of the global market. Credit World Bank


Imagine a state-of-the-art processing plant that harnesses laser-sorting technology to produce a whopping 15,000 tons of raisins a year, linking up thousands of local farmers to international markets and providing job opportunities to women.
 
To find such a world-class facility, look no further than Rikweda, an Afghan fruit processing company in the Kabul Province that’s well on its way to restoring Afghanistan as a raisin exporting powerhouse—a status the country held until the 1970s when it claimed about 20 percent of the global market.
 
In Afghanistan’s volatile business environment, let alone its deteriorating security, Rikweda’s story is an inspiration for budding entrepreneurs and investors.
 
It also is an illustration of the government’s reform efforts to create more opportunities for Afghan businesses to open and grow, which were reflected in the country’s record advancement in the Doing Business 2019 index, launched today by the World Bank.
 
Despite the increasing conflicts and growing fragility, and thanks to a record five reforms that have moved Afghanistan up to the rank of 167th from 183rd last year, the country became a top improver for the first time in the report’s history.
 
And Afghanistan is not the only South Asian country this year that took a prominent place among top 10 improvers globally.
 
India – which holds the title for the second consecutive year – is a striking example of how persistence pays off, and the high-level ownership and championship of reforms are critical for success. Its ranking has improved by 23 places this year and puts India ahead of all other countries in South Asia. This year, India is ranked 77th, up from 100th last year. 

Five takeaways for better nutrition in South Asia—and beyond

Felipe F. Dizon's picture
In many developing countries, governments and health authorities face the dilemma of how to feed their growing population while ensuring their food is nutritious. Credit: World Bank

Together with more than 1,500 academics, scientists, and policymakers, we participated last week in the Rice Olympics.
 
The event—formally known as the International Rice Congress (IRC)—provides a unique window on the latest innovations and policies about the globe’s most important staple crop.
 
For many, rice may not seem worth the cost of a conference trip. Yet, half of the world’s population depend on it as their main supply of nutrients and energy.  
 
Rice isn’t just a crop,” said Rajan Garjaria, Executive Vice President for Business Platforms at Corteva Agriscience. “It’s a way of life. A place can be made or broken, based on their rice crop.
 
The Congress discussed a breadth of topics, but what stood out the most is that rice can be instrumental in making people healthier and in sustaining the planet.
 
The South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI), a World Bank partnership that aims to improve food and nutrition security across the region, participated in the Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems and Diets and presented its latest research on linkages among food prices, diet quality, and nutrition security.  
 
Overall, the event underscored how governments and health authorities in many developing countries face the dilemma of how to feed their growing population while ensuring their food is nutritious and discussed relevant strategies to transform nutrition security challenges into opportunities.

Budding entrepreneurs in rural Bihar

Vinay Kumar Vutukuru's picture

Agricultural entrepreneurship

Rahul Kumar is a 25-year-old community extension worker at Jeevika in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. He set up an agri-business enterprise six months ago and it’s turned out to be quite a success. Kumar earned more than INR 180,000 ($2,700) in barely one month during the rainy season crop cycle, also known as Kharif crop in India. What’s more, he sold quality seeds and other agriculture inputs to more than 150 farmers during that period, helping them save over INR 50,000. “Whatever I could earn as a Village Resource Person (VRP) over a period of one year, I managed to earn that much as an agri-entrepreneur in just one month,” said Kumar.
 
A three-way partnership between JEEViKA (a Government of Bihar supported program for economic empowerment), Syngenta Foundation India (a civil society organization working towards enhancing farmers’ incomes) and the National Institute of Rural development & Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR), an academic institution helped Kumar and his farmer friends achieve a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes.
 
In this partnership, NIRDPR provided training to the budding entrepreneurs under the overall technical support of SFI, who provided on-the-ground hand-holding and mentoring support. JEEViKA provided the institutional platform from where promising local youths were identified, selected and incubated to work as entrepreneurs. The community organizations, in many cases, also provided the initial credit for seed capital to these entrepreneurs to start their agri-business ventures. 

Pathal Ram, a small farmer from the same village said, “If I could get good quality seeds and other inputs at my home, what is the point of going to the market? It saves my time and money. I could use this time in my field for better cultivation.”

Moving India’s railways into the future

Joe Qian's picture
Laying Tracks
Progress is being made on the largest railway project in India's modern history – the Dedicated Freight Corridor Program. 
View the 3D presentation here
Thump…thump…thump...like a slow rhythmic drum, concrete ties that hold the track in place are laid down one after another with the latest machinery as rails are placed precisely on top of them.

It’s nearing sunset near the town of Hathras in India’s state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 220 million people—more than the entire population of Brazil.

Progress is being made on the largest railway project in India’s modern history that will increase prosperity by helping move people and goods more safely, effectively, and in an environmentally-friendly way.
India’s Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) program is building dedicated freight-only railway lines along highly congested transport corridors connecting the industrial heartland in the north to the ports of Kolkata and Mumbai on the eastern and western coasts.
India Trains
Passengers and freight trains currently share tracks in India which can cause congestion and delays. The project will help increase the speed of freight rail to up to 100km/h from the current 25km/h average. 

Through these efforts, DFC is expected to improve transport and trade logistics – bringing much needed jobs, connectivity, and urbanization opportunities to some of India’s poorest provinces – including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh while helping protect the environment. The electric locomotives will help ease India’s energy security issues and escalating concerns about traffic accidents, congestion, carbon emissions, and pollution created by road traffic. 

Near Hathras and simultaneously in different sites in the country, workers equipped with modern equipment and techniques efficiently lay 1.5 km of new track per day in different weather conditions. Once completed, electric cables are stretched above and signaling is installed, all in preparation for the electric locomotives reliably to carry their cargo across the country at maximum speed of 100km/h, compared to an average current speed of 25 km/h.

Finishing the job of ending poverty in South Asia

Hartwig Schafer's picture
This Bangladeshi woman was born in poverty. With the right kind of education, life in poverty quickly became a story from the past for her. Credit: World Bank

"I have a four-year-old son back in my village. I want to make a better life for him,” says Sharmin Akhtar, a 19-year-old employee in one of Dhaka’s many flourishing garment factories.

Like thousands of other poor women, Sharmin came down to Bangladesh’s capital from her village in the country’s north to seek a better job and create a more prosperous future for her family—leaving behind a life of crushing poverty.

Today, as we mark End Poverty Day 2018, it’s important to note that Sharmin’s heartening story is one of many in Bangladesh and the rest of South Asia, where economic growth has spurred a dramatic decline in extreme poverty in the last 25 years.

And the numbers are striking: In South Asia, the number of extreme poor living on less than $1.90 a day dropped to 216 million people in 2015 from 275 million in 2013 and 536 million in 1990.

Even more remarkable, South Asian countries experienced an increase in incomes among the poorest 40 percent of 2.6 percent a year between 2010-2015, faster than the global average of 1.9 percent.

On a global scale, the highest concentration of poor shifted from South Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2012. And India is likely to be overtaken, if it has not already been, by Nigeria as the country with the most people living in extreme poverty.

It’s worth thinking about how far South Asia has come – but remaining clear-eyed about how far we must go to finish the fight against extreme poverty.

Indeed, it is increasingly clear that poverty is more entrenched and harder to root out in certain areas, particularly in rural areas and in countries burdened by violent conflict and weak institutions.

Estimates for 2015 indicate that India, with 176 million poor people, continued to have the highest number of people in poverty and accounted for nearly a quarter of the global poor.

True, the extreme poverty rate is significantly lower in India relative to the average rate in Sub-Saharan Africa. But because of its large population, India’s total number of poor is still large.

And while there has been a substantial decline in the numbers and rate of people living below $1.90 in South Asia, the number of people living on less than $3.20 has declined by only 8 percent over 1990-2015 because of the growing population.

In 2015, 49 percent of the population of South Asia were living on less than $3.20 a day, and 80 percent were living on less than $5.50 a day.

Giving people control over their data can transform development

Nandan Nilekani's picture
Suguna, one of the many women who has benefited from Aadhaar– her digital identity. © Bernat Parera
Suguna, one of the many women who has benefited from Aadhaar– her digital identity. © Bernat Parera

In Para village of Rajasthan, India, Shanti Devi’s livelihood depends on wages earned through MNREGA (India’s rural employment guarantee program) and a pension for her and her disabled husband. Eight years ago, a postman would deliver this cash to any household member he found. Sometimes she did not receive the full amount because a relative would claim her money. Even when she did, women like Shanti Devi did not have a secure way to save it because she was unbanked. Opening a bank account needed an individual identification card which many women lacked.

Today, Shanti Devi’s life has changed because of Aadhaar – her digital identity. All of her cash benefits are transferred directly into her bank account, which she was able to open with her Aadhaar number and her fingerprint. She can make and receive digital payments, with any person or business, even without a smartphone. With her ID, she is now fully empowered to exercise her rights, access services and economic opportunities. Most of all, she is afforded the dignity to assert her identity.  

Investing in people of South Asia for prosperity and quality of life

Hartwig Schafer's picture
A little girl in Balochistan, Pakistan, who now receives a quality education thanks to World Bank support. 
A little girl in Balochistan, Pakistan, who now receives a quality education thanks to World Bank support. Credit: World Bank 

Human capital – the potential of individuals – is going to be the most important long-term investment any country can make for its people’s future prosperity and quality of life.

Just look around the world: Technology is reshaping every industry and setting new demands for skills in every profession. The frontier for skills is moving faster than ever before.

To meet that challenge and be able to compete in the global economy, countries need to prepare their workforces now for the tremendous challenges and opportunities driven by technological change.  

To that end, the World Bank will launch next week its highly anticipated Human Capital Index to measure countries’ contribution of health and education to the productivity of the next generation of their workers.

The Index will be released on October 11 at the Bank’s Annual Meetings in Bali as part of the Human Capital Project, a global effort led by the Bank to accelerate investments in people for greater equity and economic growth.

No doubt, any country ranking gets high visibility and, sometimes, meets controversy. But I hope it triggers a dialogue about policies to promote investments in people.

To be clear, the important purpose of the Human Capital Index is to measure the distance of each country to the highest standard of complete education and full health—or the “frontier”.

The index, irrespective of whether it is high or low, is not an indication of a country’s current policies or initiatives, but rather reflects where it has emerged over years and decades.

Put simply, the index measures what the productivity of a generation is, compared to what it could be, if they had benefitted from complete education and good health.

The index ranges from 0 to 1 and takes the highest value of 1 only if a child born today can expect to achieve full health (defined as no stunting and survival up to at least age 60) and complete her education potential (defined as 14 years of high-quality school by age 18).

Logistics: Building skills to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow

Yin Yin Lam's picture


As one of the key foundations for manufacturing, trade and growth, logistics is a strategic component of every economy. The sector can also contribute significantly to job creation. For example, in the UK, logistics is a $120billion industry that employs about 8% of the workforce. In India, it is a $160billion industry accounting for 22 million jobs, with employment growing 8% annually.

In 2016 and 2018, the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index found that many developing countries face a significant skills gap in the logistics sector, especially at the managerial level. Similarly, several studies conducted in emerging economies such as China, India, and South Africa report shortages of supply chain talent.

In that context, emerging economies must tackle two critical challenges in order to develop a competitive logistics sector:
  • How can governments plug the skills gap in logistics?

  • How can the sector cope with the rapid changes brought about by technology, such as warehouse automation “freight uberization” or online platforms matching demand and supply, and their impact on the labor market?
Let’s look at three countries that consistently rank high in various global logistics rankings—Germany, the Netherlands, and Singapore—to see how they manage these challenges.

Connecting communities through India and Bangladesh's cross-border markets

Nikita Singla's picture


In remote border regions in Bangladesh and India, a government-to-government initiative is changing cross border relations, shifting the focus from smuggling and skirmishes to mutual economic gains and building a coalition for peace and cooperation.

In 2011, Bangladesh and India flagged off the first of their border haats, representing an attempt to recapture once thriving economic and cultural relationships that had been truncated by the creation of national borders.
Border Haats are local markets along the Indo-Bangladesh border that stretches 4100 Kms and runs through densely populated regions.

Conceived as Confidence Building Measures between India and Bangladesh, 4 Border Haats were set up between 2011 and 2015.
  • Balat (Meghalaya) – Sunamgunj (Sylhet)
  • Kalaichar (Meghalaya) – Kurigram (Rangpur)
  • Srinagar (Tripura) – Chagalnaiya (Chittagong)
  • Kamalasagar (Tripura) – Kasba (Chittagong)

Initially only local produce was permitted for trade. But subsequently, the range of items has been broadened to include goods of household consumption.
 

Bringing the People of Bangladesh and India Together Through Border Markets
Overall, border Haats have been strongly welcomed by participants. The positive experience of border haats has prompted both the governments to flag-off six more Border Haats: two in Tripura and four in Meghalaya. More Haats mean more trade, more people to people connect and more trust, one leading to another. This will go a long way in linking marginalized border communities to more mainstreamed trade and development.  


But border haats are not only about trade.


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