When the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched the results from the most recent assessment of mathematics, reading, and science competencies of 15 year-olds (the Program for international Student Assessment, PISA) last December, it held encouraging news for the European Union’s newest members. Estonia, Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic scored above the OECD average and ahead of many richer European Union neighbors. Compared to previous assessments, the 2012 scores of most countries in Central Europe and the Baltics were up (as they were in Turkey, as Wiseman et al highlighted in this blog recently). Improvements were particularly marked in Bulgaria and Romania, traditionally the weakest PISA achievers in the EU, as well as well-performing Poland and Estonia. Only Slovakia and Hungary saw declines (see chart with PISA mathematics scores).
In the lead up to the holidays, much will be written about how we, as consumers, can safely prepare food to ensure that friends and family remember a wonderful holiday meal and not the bout of food poisoning that landed a loved one in the emergency room.
But it often strikes me that other major threats to food safety – those that lie undetected in farms and factories and other vulnerable points along the food supply chain – are not part of the conversation until tainted food surfaces in grocery stores and on dinner plates, making millions sick and even killing people along the way.
As global headlines have illustrated – packaged salads in the United States, sprouts in Germany, milk and infant formula in China – food safety is a serious issue that affects all of us: individuals, nations, and businesses. No country is immune, and as global agri-food value chains become more integrated, food safety hazards that were once geographically confined can now span countries and continents with ease.
Editor's Note: This blog draws on the forthcoming article “New Trade Regionalism in Asia: Looking Past the Sino-American Great Game," written by Swarnim Wagle, to be published in the Global Emerging Voices 2013 Working Papers.
Negotiations over one of history’s most ambitious trade deals have taken another step towards defining the future of Trans-Pacific trade.
The latest round of discussions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) wrapped up this past weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah. Negotiators are believed to have made headway on a number of thorny issues, clearing the way for ministerial talks to be held in Singapore, Dec. 7-10.
The TPP will draw together 12 countries dotting the perimeter of the Pacific—Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. But it’s the United States’ efforts to spearhead the talks that have attracted the most attention. Concerns over a lack of transparency and the intrusive scope of the agreements’ provisions into national policymaking have led many to question its objective.
- Brunei Darussalam
- New Zealand
- United States
- East Asia and Pacific
- Europe and Central Asia
- Latin America & Caribbean
- The World Region
- Global Economy
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Law and Regulation
- TTIP. Trans-Pacific Partnership
- Agricultural Subsidies
- Free Trade
Join me in a Twitter Chat on why global food prices remain high on Dec. 4 at 10 a.m. ET/15:00 GMT. I'll be tweeting from @worldbanklive with hashtag #foodpriceschat. Ask questions beforehand with hashtag #foodpriceschat. Looking forward to seeing you on Twitter.
Today there are 842 million who are hungry. As the global population approaches 9 billion by 2050, demand for food will keep increasing, requiring sustained improvement in agricultural productivity. Where will these productivity increases come from? For decades, small-scale family farming was widely thought to be more productive and more efficient in reducing poverty than large-scale farming. But now advocates of large-scale agriculture point to its advantages in leveraging huge investments and innovative technologies as well as its enormous export potential. Critics, however, highlight serious environmental, animal welfare, social and economic concerns, especially in the context of fragile institutions. The often outrageous conditions and devastating social impacts that “land grabs” bring about are well known, particularly in severely food-insecure countries.
So, is large-scale farming—particularly the popularly known “super farms”—the solution to food demand challenges? Or is it an obstacle? Here are the 10 key questions you need to ask yourself to better understand this issue. I have tried to address them in the latest issue of Food Price Watch.
- food security
- food price watch
- super farms
- South Asia
- United States
- United Kingdom
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Russian Federation
- Congo, Democratic Republic of
In the early 1990s, selling condoms was highly controversial in Vietnam. For so long, condoms had been distributed to each household throughout the country for free for family planning use only. Condoms were not used for promoting safe sex. It was extremely difficult to convince the media to advertise condoms, very hard to convince the government that it was possible to generate revenue from selling condoms. People found it embarrassing to buy condoms in shops or drugs stores.
A few months ago, I journeyed to Lao Cai, a predominantly ethnic minority area in Vietnam’s Northern Mountains, to supervise a pilot survey. One older man I encountered—typical of many we saw—was a subsistence farmer with minimal education who spoke only his native language and had barely ventured beyond his village.
Members of ethnic minority groups make up 15 percent of the country’s population but account for 70 percent of the extreme poor (measured using a national extreme poverty line). During Vietnam’s two decades of rapid growth, members of ethnic minority groups in the country have experienced overall improvements in their standards of living, but their gains have lagged behind those of the Kinh majority.
Why is ethnic minority poverty persistent? This has been the subject of numerous studies, including a 2009 study on ethnicity and development in Vietnam as well as a chapter in our more recent Vietnam Poverty Assessment. This is also one piece of the research my team is currently pursuing.
Many countries use trade policy to protect their own consumers from spikes in international food prices. It turns out that this well-intentioned practice can actually do more harm than good. During food price spikes -- such as those in mid-2008, early 2011 and mid-2012 – governments restricted the export of food staples or lowered barriers to importing them. They hoped to keep their domestic prices of rice, wheat, maize, and oilseed low, reasoning that this would help their poor and stop people from falling into poverty. But there is new evidence that, while the practice kept each country’s domestic prices down relative to the world prices at the time, it contributed to the higher international prices that were the source of concern. In a World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, “Food Price Spikes, Price Insulation, and Poverty,” we explore this phenomenon and find that it did not reduce global poverty in 2008. On the contrary, we estimate it may have increased poverty slightly (by 8 million people).
|Two members of the Black and White club join an arm-wrestling competition with the slogan 'Arm-wrestling to blow away corruption' at a youth event in Hanoi in November 2012 to promote fair education environment.|
I often hear that corruption is everywhere and nothing can be done about it. I used to believe it. I still hear people saying the work on anticorruption is a waste of time. I disregard these cynical statements now. Who made me change my attitude? The youth.
I started being inspired several years ago when a group of young women from the Vietnamese NGO Live and Learn (L&L) developed the idea of ‘a sustainable and transparent society in the hands of youth’. As clear as the idea tells, these young women wanted to engage more with youth, educate them about sustainable and transparent development and how young people can become catalysts for change and for a less corruption-prone country. The idea was among winning initiatives of the Vietnam Innovation Day (VID) 2009 More Transparency and Accountability, Less Corruption, which was co-organized by the World Bank and the Government Inspectorate.
As part of the project idea, L&L would help connect and create a network of student and youth groups (Green Generation network, volunteer clubs, youth organizations, Be Change Agents, etc.) in Hanoi. These groups would be more informed of development issues such as sustainable development, corruption, and their responsibilities, and eventually would act together to build a corruption-free society. The journey was not without difficulties. During the first six months of the project, L&L was not able to get into many universities to talk with students about transparency nor integrity, let alone corruption. Even if universities were open to the idea, not many students showed interest. Some events attracted only 8 young people.
Two kids wash their hands with clean water. Their home in Thai Binh Province, Vietnam got access to clean water in 2011. Watch video: Providing clean water in rural areas: an example from Vietnam
Despite Vietnam’s significant economic growth in recent years, there continues to be a gap between urban and rural areas when it comes to access to clean water and hygienic sanitation facilities. Many poor households in rural areas still do not have access to clean water or to a toilet. During one of our earlier field visits for the Red River Delta Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (RRDRWASS) project which began almost 10 years ago, I was struck by what a lady from a community told me. She questioned why people in urban areas have access to good water supply and sanitation services while those in rural areas do not. She said that compared to urban residents, perhaps people in rural areas were happy with a lower level of service and that the demand for better services was simply not there.
At first I thought that she might be right but I later came to realise that this is not the case. There is demand for improved services in rural areas, and more importantly, people have a fundamental right to have access to those services.
So what are the reasons for the gap?