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How can digital technology help transform Africa’s food system?

Simeon Ehui's picture
Also available in: Français 
Photo: Dasan Bobo/World Bank
There’s no question that agriculture is critical to Africa’s biggest development goals. It is fundamental for poverty reduction, economic growth and environment sustainability. African food market continues to grow. It is estimated that African food markets will triple to US$1 trillion from its current US$300 billion value. Farming accounts for 60% of total employment in Sub-Saharan Africa—and food system jobs account for even more. In Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, the food system is projected to add more jobs than the rest of the economy between 2010 and 2025.

And yet, Africa’s agriculture sector is facing serious challenges. Agricultural productivity in Africa lags behind other regions. One in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically undernourished. Africa’s food system is further strained by rapid population growth and climate change. The food security challenge will only grow as climate change intensifies, threatening crop and livestock production. If no adaptation occurs, production of maize—which is one of Africa’s staple crops—could decline by up to 40% by 2050. Clearly, business as usual approaches to agriculture in Africa aren’t fit for transforming the sector to meet its full potential.

Digital technology could be part of the solution. But how can digital technology help transform Africa’s food system?

It’s instructive to look at startups, which are an emerging force in Africa’s agriculture sector.

Technology can help spring workers from the informality trap

Kristalina Georgieva's picture
Women stitch handicrafts at Everest Fashion Fair Craft in Lalitpur, Nepal. © Peter Kapuscinski/World Bank
Women stitch handicrafts at Everest Fashion Fair Craft in Lalitpur, Nepal. © Peter Kapuscinski/World Bank

Technology and what it will do to change how we work is the driving obsession of the moment. The truth is that nobody knows for sure what will happen – the only certainty is uncertainty. How then should we plan for the jobs that don’t yet exist?
 
Our starting point is to deal with what we know – and the biggest challenge that the future of work faces – and has faced for decades – is the vast numbers of people who live day to day on casual labor, not knowing from one week to the next if they will have a job and unable to plan ahead, let alone months rather than years, for their children’s prosperity. We call this the informal economy – and as with so much pseudo-technical language which erects barriers, the phrase fails to convey the abject state of purgatory to which it condemns millions of workers and their families around the world.

How can we help cities provide the building blocks for future growth?

Sameh Wahba's picture
Also available in: Español | Français 

Photo: Ngoc Tran / Shutterstock

Basic infrastructure makes all the difference in the lives of people. Sometimes a road is all it takes…

Access to clean drinking water and sanitation can improve children’s health, reduce waterborne disease, and lower the risk of stunting.

Street lighting can improve the safety of a community, reduce gender-based violence, and add productive hours for shops and economic activities, which can help people escape poverty.

A paved road can lead to a world of possibilities for small business owners, increasing access to additional markets and suppliers, as well as opportunities to grow their businesses.

The urban infrastructure finance gap

Cities already account for approximately 70-80 percent of the world’s economic growth, and this will only increase as cities continue to grow. In the next 35 years, the population in cities is estimated to expand by an additional 2.5 billion people, almost double the population of China. As a vital component for connectivity, public health, social welfare, and economic development, infrastructure in all its forms – basic, social, and economic – is critical for the anticipated urban growth.

Globally, the annual investment required to cover the gap for resilient infrastructure is estimated at $4.5-$5.4 trillion. Cities will need partners to help them provide these building blocks for the future. The public sector cannot address these crucial needs alone, and overall official development assistance barely totals three percent of this amount. Cities should begin looking toward innovative financing options and to the private sector.

To Cap or not to cap? What does Kenya’s experience tell us about the impact of interest rate caps on the financial sector?

Bilal Zia's picture

Interest rate caps can have far-reaching consequences on the composition and maturity of commercial bank loans and deposits. From both a policy and research standpoint, it is important to understand the mechanisms behind such impacts and the channels through which they affect various players in the financial sector.

While cross-country evidence suggests that interest rate caps can reduce credit availability and increase costs for low-income borrowers1, rigorous micro-evidence on the channels of impact within an economy is missing.

In a new working paper that uses bank-level panel data from Kenya, Mehnaz Safavian and I carefully examine the impact of the recently imposed interest rate caps on the country’s formal financial sector.2

In September 2016, the Kenyan Parliament passed a bill that effectively imposed a cap on interest rates charged on loans and a corresponding floor on the interest rates offered for deposit accounts by commercial banks. This new legislation was in response to the public view that lending rates in Kenya were too high, and that banks were engaging in predatory lending behavior. The interest rate caps were therefore intended to alleviate the repayment burden on borrowers and improve financial inclusion as more individuals and firms would be able to borrow at the lower repayment rates.

Making marble from bottles: plastic waste’s second life in Kenya

Justine White's picture
It is estimated that every day Nairobi generates 3,000 tons of waste; 12% is plastic. At the same time, the demand for new houses is growing at a rate of 600 per day. Innovative climate technologies can offer solutions that tackle both the challenges of plastic recycling and the increasing housing demand. But what is an effective approach to introducing technologies that can impact a critical number of companies in the value chain?
 
“From plastic waste to building materials,” a partnership supported by the World Bank Group gathering six private sector frontrunners in Kenya, is testing exactly this.
From plastic to marble. Photo © Better Future Factories
From plastic to marble. Photo © Better Future Factory

Do free school uniforms help children stay in school?

Muthoni Ngatia's picture
Children in uniform in (clockwise from top left) Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Ghana. Photos: World Bank


Around much of Africa, children wear uniforms to school. With the abolition of official school fees for primary school in most countries, the cost of uniforms can be one of the largest expenses for families. In a new study, we examine the impact of providing free school uniforms to primary school children and observe how it affects their school participation in the short and long run.

What’s the latest systems research on the quality of governance?

Daniel Rogger's picture



Blog reader: “Dan! The government is one big system. Why didn’t your blog on the latest research on the quality of governance take this into account?”
Dan (Rogger): “Well, typically frontier papers in the field don’t frame their work as ‘modeling the system’ [which do?]  However, Martin Williams at the Blavatnik School of Government hosted a conference last week on ‘Systems of Public Service Delivery in Developing Countries’ that directly aims to discuss how research can take into account the systemic elements of governance.
 

Spatially awhere: Bridging the gap between leading and lagging regions

Sameh Wahba's picture


As the world urbanizes rapidly, international experience has shown that economic activities concentrate in a relatively small number of places – it is estimated that only 1.5% of the world’s land is home to about half of global production.

Such economic concentration is a built-in feature of human settlement development and a key driver of growth. However, while some countries have succeeded in spreading economic benefits to most of their citizens, many other countries have not.

Especially outside the economic centers that concentrate production, there are “lagging areas” with persistent disparities in living standards and a lack of access to basic services and economic opportunities.

Today, over two billion people live in such lagging areas. Over one billion people live in underserved slums with many disparities from the rest of the city in terms of access to infrastructure and services, tenure security, and vulnerability to disaster risk. A further one billion people live in underdeveloped areas with few job opportunities and public services.

How can countries address the division between the leading and lagging regions?

As discussed at the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we at the World Bank Group are taking an integrated territorial approach through a “spatially awhere” lens to tackle the land, social, and economic challenges altogether.

[Download: World Bank publications on urban development]

African leaders committed to building a digital economy

Ceyla Pazarbasioglu's picture
Mbarak Mbigo helps his colleagues who are software developers at Andela, in Nairobi, Kenya. © Dominic Chavez/IFC


We only have to look at the way we communicate, shop, travel, work and entertain ourselves to understand how technology has drastically changed every aspect of life and business in the last 10 years.

Technology-driven changes are radically transforming the world and enabling developing countries to leapfrog decades of “traditional” industrial development. But disruptive technology also increases the stakes for countries, which cannot afford to be left behind.

Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrated its capacity to harness technology when it embraced the mobile telecom revolution in the 2000s. Now again, there is huge potential for digital impact in Africa. But to achieve that, the five foundations of a digital economy need to be in place - digital infrastructure, literacy and skills, financial services, platforms, and digital entrepreneurship and innovation.


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