Agriculture and Rural Development
For the first time in history, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%. The world has never been as ambitious about development as it is today. After adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and signing the Paris climate deal at the end of 2015, the global community is now looking into the best and most effective ways of reaching these milestones. In this five-part series I will discuss what the World Bank Group is doing and what we are planning to do in key areas that are critical for ending poverty by 2030: good governance, gender equality, conflict and fragility, preventing and adapting to climate change, and, finally, creating jobs.
Seawater is rising in coastal Bangladesh. The soil contains more and more salt as the sea encroaches on the land. As a result, farmers see their crops declining. Communities are hollowing out, as working-age adults move to cities. Freshwater fish are disappearing, reducing the amount of protein in local diets. And in the dry season, mothers have to ration drinking water for their children – in some areas, to as little as two glasses a day.
Climate change is finally being taken seriously in the developed world, but it is generally seen as a future threat, to be managed over the coming years. For poor people in poor countries, particularly those living along coastlines, in river deltas, or on islands, it is a clear and present danger – and increasingly, a dominant fact of life.
Water and sanitation linked to many development factors
Despite halving the number of people worldwide without access to an improved water source over the past 25 years, the poorest countries are struggling to provide safe water and adequate sanitation to all their citizens in a sustainable manner. Just over a quarter of people in low-income countries had access to an improved sanitation facility, compared with just over half in lower middle-income countries in 2015. Delivery of water supply and sanitation is no longer just a challenge of service provision, but it is intrinsically linked with climate change, water resources management, water scarcity and water quality.
Myanmar’s unusually fertile soils and abundant water source are legendary in Southeast Asia. It is even said that Myanmar has the most favorable agricultural conditions in all of Asia. Almost anything can be grown in the country, from fruits to vegetables, from rice to pulses. The agriculture sector dominates the economy, contributing 38% of GDP, and employing more than 60% of the workforce. The importance of agriculture in the economy and as an employer will diminish in coming years as a result of structural transformation. However, the sector will continue to play a remarkable role in reducing poverty in Myanmar for many years to come.
Syrian families have been forcibly displaced and scattered across the Middle East and beyond and many of those who fled the war tell me they have lost friends, family members, and most of their possessions.
Jasser, a 24-year-old Syrian man, and his family were forced to flee in 2012 because of the bombings. He lost his mother and sister, his house, car, and job. Before leaving Syria he was working in farming, processing and producing fruits and vegetables. Jasser and other displaced people like him are struggling to find jobs (and get visas), generate income, and gain an education. They all say they want to return home in the near future. They all say they want to work and keep their dignity.
The concept of “Gross National Happiness” has been long discussed, debated, understated, overstated or seen as a gimmick. Now what is really Gross National Happiness? And how does the World Bank engagement fit in it? Let’s look into it together in an attempt to de-mystify the concept into what it really is, which is: a vision, broad policy directions trickling down to programs, a survey, a policy screening tool, and yes also, a foreign policy instrument and a brand.
The visionary statement, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product” was first enunciated by His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan in the 1970s. In turn, the Fifth King declared: “Today, GNH has come to mean so many things to so many people but to me it signifies simply - Development with Values. Thus for my nation today GNH is the bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality and humanity and the necessary pursuit of economic growth.” Article 9-2 of the constitution directs the state “to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness”.
GNH is translated into broad policy directions that provide the Government’s overarching, long-term strategies and five-year plans. The four pillars of GNH philosophy are: sustainable development; preservation and promotion of cultural values (traditional and cultural heritage paramount - its loss leads to a general weakening of society); conservation of the natural environment (Bhutan’s constitution: 60 percent forest coverage, green economy), establishment of good governance.
As a young scientist, I travelled to the Brazilian Amazon to research forest fires. After weeks of talking to rural producers, rubber tappers, indigenous peoples and cattle ranchers, I realized that I had to think beyond conservation science and climate change implications to understand the Amazonian landscape. The nexus between people and the rainforest was also important. I came away wanting to help ensure that the value of forests to people, and the value of people to forests remained closely linked and well-recognized.
The loss of biodiversity—which is driven by rapid conversion of habitats and landscapes, the depletion of ocean fisheries, and climate change—is not new. But concern for how to decrease the loss of biodiversity is. We are no longer just scientists and conservationists. The international community now makes the loss of biodiversity central to the global political debate: nations have the responsibility to protect natural assets.
I recently visited one of Bioversity International’s project sites in Begnas, where I met farming couple, Surya and Saraswati Adhikari. They proudly showed me around their biodiverse farm, pointing out some of the 150 plant species they grow and explaining that each one has a specific use. They showed me the vegetables, rice, gourds and legumes they grow to eat and sell; the trees that provide fruits, fodder and fuel, and the many herbs for medicinal and cultural purposes.