Agriculture and Rural Development
It has been exactly three months since the Nepal earthquake first struck and one month since the donor conference. The humanitarian phase is nearing its end, the international presence is starting to move onto the next crisis, and high level international dignitaries have now returned to their capitals. The earthquake is no longer making headline news and the government is getting back to business as usual, albeit with the huge challenge of rebuilding.
Now is time to take stock of the events from the past three months. During a crisis, there is no time for those involved to look back at what has been accomplished. What matters is the next immediate action and challenge to overcome. Last week, in the Bank headquarters, our management and some members of the earthquake response team presented the progress achieved thus far to an overcrowded room. This was my first opportunity to reflect on the disaster and I was almost overcome with emotion. Be they senior government officials, the Bank’s country office team, first- emergency responders, or Nepalis, it is difficult to articulate just what folks have overcome in Nepal.
Inorganic fertilizer use is claimed to be low in sub-Saharan Africa, but it is unclear whether using higher rates of fertilizer would be profitable. My coauthors and I sought to explore the effect of nitrogen on maize in farms across Nigeria to find out. To do this, we took advantage of the recently available Living Standards Measurement Study - Integrated Surveys on Agriculture, or LSMS-ISA, a household survey project working to collect up to date agricultural data for the same household over time.
What did we find?
Low yield response and high transport costs reduce fertilizer profitability
We found that little extra maize production is expected from adding more nitrogen at the margin; that is, the marginal physical product (MPP) of applied nitrogen for maize production in Nigeria is quite low at 8kg. Though within the range found in peer-reviewed published works, often between 7 and 14 kg, it is much lower than the potential yield response from plots on which research management protocols are being followed. These range between 14 to 50 kg maize per kg nitrogen (N) and even higher in some cases (Snapp et al, 2014). This low yield response to nitrogen in Nigeria extends to other cereals such as rice (See figure 1).
We just published our Commodity Market Outlook for the third quarter of 2015, and report that most prices declined in the second quarter of 2015 due to ample supplies and weak demand, especially in industrial commodities (see figure below).
Energy prices rose 12 percent in the quarter, with the surge in oil offset by declines in natural gas (down 13 percent) and coal prices (down 4 percent). However, energy prices fell on average to 39 percent below 2014 levels. Natural gas prices are projected to decline across all three main markets—U.S., Europe, and Asia—and coal prices to fall 17 percent. Excluding energy, our report notes a 2 percent decline in prices for the quarter, and forecasts that non-energy prices will average 12 percent below 2014 levels this year. Iran’s new nuclear agreement with the US and other leading governments, if ratified, will ease sanctions, including restrictions on oil exports from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Downside risks to the forecast include higher-than-expected non-OPEC production (supported by falling production costs) and continuing gains in OPEC output. Possible (less likely) upside pressures may come from closure of high-cost operations—the number of operational oil rigs in the US is down 60 percent since its November high, for example—and geopolitical tensions.
Food price volatility remains a pressing challenge for many African countries (FAO, IMF, and UNCTAD, 2011). The vast majority of Africa’s population still derives a substantial share of their income from agriculture and low-income households allocate a large share of their budget to food (often more than 60 percent). As a result, large and unexpected swings in food prices cause substantial losses in welfare, and when adequate coping strategies are absent, it may even trap households permanently into poverty. It should thus not surprise that food price shocks still feature highly among the reported shocks by households in Sub-Saharan (Nikoloski, Christiaensen, Hill, 2015).
Among African policymakers, the main reasons for high food price volatility in the domestic markets is often thought to be external, i.e. “imported” from the world food markets. However, the sources may also be domestic, for example when markets are poorly integrated internally. Under the “Agriculture in Africa – Telling Facts from Myths” project, data collected by the Société Nationale de Gestion du Stock Alimentaire (SONAGESS) on maize prices in 28 markets from Burkina Faso during the 2000s (July 2004-Nov 2013) were analyzed to tease out the extent to which maize price volatility is driven by domestic rather than external factors. Over the past decades, maize has become the most marketed and exported cereal in Burkina Faso. It now accounts for 31% of grain production, against only 7% three decades ago, and represents the second source of income for farmers, after cotton.
Turkey has radically transformed its land title registration system, and decreased the turnaround time for recording property transactions to just two hours.
I remember my first visit to the agency in 2007. The agency is heavily staffed (15,000), has more than 100 branches and its main headquarters had once almost fallen apart. In my first visit, the head of the agency gave me a nice surprise: he showed me a land book that dated back to the 18th century, and included a record of my great-great-grandfather’s land title in Palestine.
The head of the agency had great plans to transform the agency by improving land records, introducing computerization and integrating the system into the overall e-government program, and setting a time limit of one day to register land transactions. Based on that an ambitious reform agenda, we worked together over a few months’ ‘time to prepare the cadastre modernization project. The Bank partly financed this reform through a $100 million loan, while the Turkish government funded the rest of the program. The project started in 2007, and I moved on to other positions later that year.
This time I had a second surprise. The institution is completely transformed. The main office has been completely and beautifully renovated. It now resembles any other government office in the US or Europe. The agency presented its achievements. It was amazing to see what had been accomplished in 8 years. The government is about to complete the renovation of the cadastre and the computerization of all land records, including historical records from Ottoman times. Service delivery has improved dramatically, with property transactions now being registered within 2 hours. They also integrated cadastre registration into the overall e-government program, which allows any Turkish citizen to access the record of their land/property online. Above all, customer satisfaction has reached 97% — something unheard of for land agencies, often known to be among the most corrupt agencies in many countries.
Successful slogans can make a world of difference. In Vietnam, a catchphrase for a climate-smart way to produce rice has shown small farmers how they can boost rice profitability, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The World Bank discovered this through an Agriculture Competitiveness Project in Vietnam, which championed an alternate wetting and drying rice production technique that uses less water, reduction in application of fertilizers and management of crop residues to reduce the level of methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the rice fields. Adopting this climate-smart practice required the systematic engagement of the entire community committed to draining the rice fields multiple times over a matter of weeks, something traditionally rarely done. Adopting this alternate wetting and drying technique not only helps strengthen plant roots but also reduces flooding periods which translates into reduced methane production.
Night falls in Dhaka. Commercial streets glow with lights and the neon-lit stores and restaurants are abuzz with shoppers enjoying a break from Ramadan. This is a great visual spectacle punctuated by the incessant honking of colorful rickshaws.
But the reality is different right outside the capital. Sunset brings life to a halt in rural areas as about 60 percent of rural households do not have access to grid electricity. Kerosene lamps and battery-powered torches are widespread yet limited alternatives, their dim light offering limited options for cooking, reading or doing homework.
It is a sweltering hot day when our team sets out to visit a household of 14 in the village of Pachua, a two-hour drive from Dhaka. Around 80% of the villagers have benefited from the solar panel systems to access electricity. The Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project (RERED), supports installation of solar home systems and aims to increase access to clean energy in rural Bangladesh.
We’re accompanied by Nazmul Haque Faisal from IDCOL, a government-owned financing institution, which implements the program. “This is the fastest-growing solar home system in the world,” Faisal says enthusiastically, “and with 40,000-50,000 new installations per month, the project is in high demand.”
We’ve now reached our destination and Monjil Mian welcomes us to his house, which he shares with 13 other members of his family, including his brothers, two of them currently away for extended work stints in Saudi Arabia.
People familiar with Tunisia know that the country is polarized—with really two Tunisias, one poor, the other richer. The city of Sousse, for example, is among the country’s main economic centers on the coast; Kairouan by contrast, in the Center-West region, has 15% unemployment, a poverty rate of 32% (according to 2013 figures) and has witnessed frequent demonstrations of popular frustration.