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Information and Communication Technologies

The Goods, the Bad, and the Ugly: Data and the food system

Julian Lampietti's picture
Photo Credit: Goodluz/Shutterstock.com

The business of agriculture and food is driven by data, making it the treasure trove of today’s agri-food system. Whether it’s today’s soil moisture, tomorrow’s weather forecast, or the price of rice in Riyadh, every bit of data can improve the efficiency with which the world’s 570 million farmers put food into the mouths of its soon-to-be eight billion consumers. Digital technologies are facilitating the flow of data through the food system, shrinking information asymmetries and fashioning new markets along the way. How can we ensure these new markets are appropriately contested, and the treasure does not end up in the hands of a couple of gunslingers? Is there a public sector’s role in generating and disseminating data that on the one hand encourages innovation and competition and on the other reduces opportunities for market capture? One place to look may be at the crossroads of internet and public goods.

We all remember from econ class that public goods can’t be efficiently allocated by markets because they are non-rival and non-excludable. There are precious few examples of true public goods – national defense, clean air, and lighthouses come to mind. That is, at least until Coase’s in “The Lighthouse in Economics” argued that lighthouses are excludable because it was possible to temporarily turn-off the lighthouse when a ship sailed by that didn’t pay their port fees.

Protecting forests in India from disastrous fires

Siddhanta Das's picture

India’s commitment to sustainable development is clearly demonstrated through its innovative and progressive forest policies. The Government’s policy of incentivising state governments to improve their forest cover is evident in the 14th Finance Commission’s allocation of 7.5% of total revenues on the basis of the state’s forest cover. This makes India the implementer of the world’s largest Payment for Environmental Services scheme.

Over the last few years, the forest and tree cover in the country has been steadily increasing, and at present, it stands at 24.16% of the total geographic area. This affirms that sustainable forest management and long-term thinking about natural assets are foundations for strong and sustained growth. This is not to say that there are no challenges. Forest fires are a leading cause of forest degradation in India, and the current pattern of widespread and frequent fires could make it more difficult for India to meet its long-term goal of bringing 33% of its geographical area under forest & tree cover and to achieve its international commitment to create additional carbon sinks of 2.5 billion to 3 billion tons worth of CO2 equivalent by 2030.

Recognizing the challenge of forest fires in India, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the World Bank co-organized an international workshop on Forest Fire Prevention and Management from November 1 to 3, 2017. The discussion benefitted from the perspectives of government officials from India, researchers, experts and representatives from Australia, Belarus, Canada, Mexico, Nepal, the United States of America, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This workshop served as an opportunity for knowledge exchange to help India devise a robust strategy to tackle the challenge of forest fires. It was also an opportunity for Indian states to share good practices with each other, and with countries from around the world, and to learn from other countries.

Forest fires: need for rethinking management strategies

Dr. H. S. Suresh's picture

Earth’s landscape has been subjected to both natural and anthropogenic fires for millions of years.

Natural, lightning-caused fires are known to have occurred in geological time continuously at least since the late Silurian epoch, 400 million years ago, and have shaped the evolution of plant communities.

Hominids have used controlled fire as a tool to transform the landscape since about 700,000 years ago. These hominids were Homo erectus, ancestors of modern humans. Paleofire scientists, biogeographers and anthropologists all agree that hominid use of fire for various purposes has extensively transformed the vegetation of Earth over this period.
 

Dry season ground fire in Mudumalai.  Photo Credit: Dr. H. S. Suresh

The nature of Earth’s modern-day biomes would be substantially different if there had been no fires at all. William Bond and colleagues (2005) used a Dynamic Global Vegetation Model to simulate the area under closed forest with and without fire. They estimated that in the absence of fire, the area of closed forest would double from the present 27% to 56% of present vegetated area, with corresponding increase in biomass and carbon stocks. This would be at the expense of C4 grasslands and certain types of shrub-land in cooler climates.

Mexico’s National Forest Fire Management Program

Alfredo Nolasco Morales's picture

On November 1-3, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the World Bank organized a workshop in Delhi to discuss forest fire prevention and management.  The workshop brought together fire experts and practitioners from eight countries along with Indian government officials from the ministry and the state forest departments, as well as representatives from academia and civil society.  One of the participating countries, Mexico, has recently transformed its national policy on forest fires. Alfredo Nolasco Morales, Wildland Fire Protection Manager at Mexico’s National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) shared his insights on what this transformation has meant for Mexico, how it was achieved, and how it may serve as an inspiration for India as the Indian government prepares a new national action plan for forest fires.
 
Mexico’s forest fire program has operated for more than 70 years. On average, 7,500 fires occur each year, affecting 300,000 hectares of pasture, scrubland, forest, and regrowth. Recently, however, the country has experienced some especially bad years, including in 2017, when fires burned 715,714 hectares and killed 12 people. Extreme climatic conditions and the accumulation of fuels such as dry leaves, twigs, grasses, dead trees, and fallen timber have contributed to especially severe fire seasons.



Until 2012, Mexico’s national forest fire program focused on the complete suppression of fires by contracting helicopters to douse the flames. State forest fire programs were weak and there was little institutional coordination.

The Canadian forest fire danger rating system

Brian Simpson's picture
On November 1-3, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the World Bank organized a workshop in Delhi to discuss forest fire prevention and management.  The workshop brought together fire experts and practitioners from eight countries along with Indian government officials from the ministry and the state forest departments, as well as representatives from academia and civil society. Brian Simpson, an analyst with the Canadian Forest Service, shares his perspective on how Canada developed its national fire danger rating system and how this system has helped in preventing, detecting and suppressing forest fires in that country. Canada's experience may serve as an inspiration as India continues to develop its own fire danger rating system, adapting it to local conditions and management needs.
 
Canada is a big country, with a lot of forest and a lot of water. Fires are common, and are concentrated in the boreal forest region, a band of forest that stretches around the whole northern hemisphere. On average, out of around 400 million ha of forest, about 8,000 fires and 2.5 million ha burn per year. And dozens of communities and tens of thousands of people need to be evacuated each year.
 
People are mostly concentrated along the southern border with the United States, where it’s warmer. A lot of the northern communities are actually indigenous, and many of them are only accessible by air or water. If there is a road, it’s the only road. These communities are often threatened by wildfires, and are frequently evacuated due to this threat.
 
Ultimately, Canada has three main problems with respect to wildland fire - prevention, detection, and suppression.  The Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS) helps with each, though it’s only part of the solution. It helps with prevention by allowing fire managers to know where the risk of fires is higher. It helps with detection by giving fire managers a place and time to look for new fires. And it helps with suppression by providing some guidance about how the fire will behave. Beyond fire prevention, detection and suppression, CFFDRS helps with planning, response, risk assessment, smoke modelling, and even carbon emissions from these fires.
 Gts/Shutterstock.com
Photo Credit: Gts/Shutterstock.com

With respect to wildland fire, the Government of Canada has a mandate to provide for the safety and security of Canadians, to protect critical infrastructure, to mitigate the effects of climate change, and to aid the implementation of other Sustainable Development Goals like reducing poverty and improving health. All are aided by the CFFDRS.

Leveraging start-up ecosystems for development

Mutoni Karasanyi's picture


“What can we do today to prepare students for the labor force in 20 years?” the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Finance, Shai Babad, asked. At an Annual Meetings event last Friday, Babad was asked for his thoughts about successful government policies to enable start-up ecosystems. However, he answered the question with one of the many questions that policymakers continue to wrestle with in the new digital economy.

In recent years, many of the World Bank Group’s country partners have posed similar questions. As Trade & Competitiveness Director Klaus Tilmes commented, “Many clients are now less interested in our money, and more in our knowledge around best practices and effective incubator models. They’re asking ‘How can we create our own start-up ecosystems?’ So we are trying to become more systematic and leverage tools to expand our programs and build them into our lending projects.”

No state is more renowned for its success in building such ecosystems than Israel. The small country contains the highest number of start-ups outside of Silicon Valley and receives the most VC investment per capita. With a population of only 8 million, Israel has over 6,000 start-ups, and 1,000 new start-ups are launched every year. In 2016 alone, Israeli start-ups raised over $4.8 billion.

Campaign Art: Disruptive technologies and development goals

Darejani Markozashvili's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Disruptive technologies are redefining the way of life. Everyone is buzzing about drones, driverless cars, autopilot planes, robots, and supply chains, starting from the entertainment industry, to agriculture and food sector, to private sector, to humanitarian and development fields. Drones delivering food, water, or health supplies, using off-grid power, innovative mobile apps, and other technological developments are all very exciting and unknown at the same time.

How will drones impact the supply chains and service delivery in the future? What are the opportunities and risks associated with utilizing drones to deliver supplies? What is the role of technology in helping us reach Sustainable Development Goals? I can’t pretend I have answers to any of these questions, nor do I dare predict what our future may look like in 10,20,30 years. However, it sure is interesting to look at the recent technological developments and try to understand what their role may be in the future.  

That’s where the unlikely and innovative story of Zipline International Inc. and the Government of Rwanda comes in. Last fall the Government of Rwanda partnered with the California-based robotics company Zipline International Inc. and became the first country in the world to incorporate drone technology into its health care system by delivering blood and medical supplies to 21 hospitals across Rwanda’s Southern and Western provinces.
 
Delivering blood

Source: Zipline

Campaign Art: Block by block for inclusive public spaces

Darejani Markozashvili's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Public spaces have been a place of social interaction from the very early beginnings of the human civilization. Taksim Square in Istanbul, Tahrir Square in Cairo, Maidan Square in Kiev, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires are among just a few common places around the world that have witnessed the most iconic events of the recent history.

If public spaces are so important to everyday life of citizens, whose responsibility is it to create and maintain them? Should citizens have a say in how they are designed?

UN-Habitat, a United Nations programme working towards a better urban future, partnered up with Mojang, a Swedish video game developer, and Microsoft to involve people— especially youth, women and slum dwellers— in urban design by using the videogame Minecraft. The innovative partnership, known as Block by Block, was set up in 2012 to support the UN-Habitat’s work with public spaces. Take a look at the video below to learn more about this innovative approach.

Block by Block

Media (R)evolutions: Is the Internet increasing labor market polarization in Europe and Central Asia?

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

According to the World Bank report “Reaping Digital Dividends: Leveraging the Internet for Development in Europe and Central Asia” Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region has experienced, on average, a larger decline in routine employment than other parts of the world, coupled with an increase in high-and low-skill occupations. With anxiety about the job replacement effects of information and communication technologies (ICT) on the rise, let’s look into some of the highlights of the report focusing on possible short term disruptions and long term opportunities brought by ICT.  

Is the Internet responsible for the increasing market polarization? According to this report, it is not. The authors argue that in addition to technologies associated with the Internet that may have helped this process, there are other aspects, such as structural changes in economies, technological and trade, as well as labor market liberalization that help explain such rapid labor market polarization. In addition, the report points out that the depth of Internet adaptation by individuals and firms tends to be lower in ECA than many other regions.

At the same time, the report found that countries that implemented reforms in the telecommunications sector, with an objective to improve competition, increase provision, and lower prices, created the enabling environment for the increase in Internet adaptation. The graph below demonstrates, that the introduction of the telecommunications reform is strongly correlated with the decrease in the routine labor employment share.

The World Citizen: Transforming Statelessness into Global Citizenship

Mariana Dahan's picture


Statelessness is now a systemic challenge affecting over 10 million people in the world, with millions of children placed in vulnerable situations. Experts also note that the statistics on the number of stateless persons have to be revised to account for the intensified cross-border migration and massive refugee influx.


In the last couple of years alone, some fifty thousand Syrian refugee children have been born abroad and over 70 per cent of them have not been registered at birth, making it almost impossible for them to prove their citizenship later on. The issue is of growing concern. Development agencies worry that in countries hosting the 20 largest stateless populations, at least 70,000 stateless children are born each year. What sense and, more importantly, proof of identity will they have?


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