Africa stands at a crossroads. Economic growth has taken root across much of the region. In many countries, exports are booming, foreign investment is on the rise and dependence on aid is declining. Governance reforms are transforming the political landscape. Democracy, transparency and accountability have improved, giving Africa’s citizens a greater voice in decisions that affect their lives.
Agriculture and Rural Development
Romania has transformed tremendously in the past decades. Like its neighbors, the former transition economy has decisively committed to European Union (EU) integration. This has opened up great opportunities for both its citizens and its economy.
This transformation has had a positive impact on agriculture and rural areas. The European Common Agricultural Policy provided a sound policy framework, emphasizing investment in agriculture and rewarding environmentally friendly farming. It also drove institutional change by introducing modern IT systems and practices for the management of EU funds, as well as by committing €24 billion for the Romanian farmers and rural dwellers through 2020.
Yet, the transformation has proven unequal in the agriculture and rural sector, as well as in the sector administration.
Why was this the case?
One of the projects I was proudest of getting off the ground while in (nominal) charge of Oxfam’s research team was ‘Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility’, a four year study of the impact of the chaotic food prices of recent years on the lives of poor people and communities in rural and urban communities in ten countries. DFID funded it (thanks!), and IDS were our main research partners. Ace Oxfam researcher Richard King worked his socks off managing the project, before going off to a well-earned rest at Chatham House. Now the project has published its findings in a special issue of the IDS Bulletin. And it’s free online, because unlike lots of other journals, IDS has taken the Academic Spring seriously and has gone full open access (but that’s a topic for another rant).
The research is fairly unique because we went back to the same communities year after year to see how the food price story unfolded, and combined this micro level research with macro number crunching to try and put together a more complete story than usual about how a global phenomenon like the food price spike of 2008 (and subsequent price volatility) fed through into poor people’s lives and then affected the wider society. In her article on the research methodology, Naomi Hossain (the brains behind a lot of it) captures this analytical framework in a diagram.
It is widely acknowledged that reducing emissions from deforestation could bring about one-third of the greenhouse gas emission reductions we need by 2030 to stay on a 2-degrees trajectory. But protecting and managing forests wisely does not only make sense from a climate perspective. It is also smart for the economy. Forests are key economic resources in tropical countries. Protecting them would increase resilience to climate change, reduce poverty and help preserve invaluable biodiversity.
Here are just a few facts to illustrate why forests are so important. First, forests provide us with ecosystem services like pollination of food crops, water and air filtration, and protection against floods and erosion. Forests are also home for about 1.3 billion people worldwide who depend on forest resources for their livelihood. Locally, forests contribute to the rainfall needed to sustain food production over time. When forests are destroyed, humanity is robbed of these benefits.
The New Climate Economy report shows us that economic growth and cutting carbon emissions can be mutually reinforcing. We need more innovation and we need more investments in a low carbon direction. This requires some fundamental choices of public policy, and the transformation will not be easy. However, it is possible and indeed the only path to sustained growth and development. If land uses are productive and energy systems are efficient, they will both drive strong economic growth and reduce carbon intensity.
Already, the world's large tropical forest countries are taking action.
In 2015, more than 500 million hectares of forests were held by indigenous peoples. Despite the increase in forest area designated for and owned by indigenous peoples in recent decades, governments still administer 60 percent of these forest areas while firms and private individuals administer 9 percent. Pressure exerted by indigenous peoples over the past few decades has led to a 50 percent increase in forest areas recognized as being owned or designated for use by indigenous communities. The greatest strides have been made in Latin America and the Caribbean, where indigenous peoples control 40 percent of forest land. Similar trends have been observed in other regions across the globe.
For the indigenous peoples who have always lived in the forests, these areas represent their space for cultural reproduction, food production, and spiritual security. For governments and companies, forests contain major assets for food production, economic development, security, climate change mitigation, carbon sequestration, water, minerals, and gas extraction. Added to these divergent views on forest ownership and use is the proliferation in recent decades of conflicts over territorial control and forest resources. Growing international demand for commodities (minerals, hydrocarbons, soybeans, and other basic agricultural products) has fueled greater economic activity linked to the development of forest resources. However, this progress has come at a price: adverse environmental impacts, the reclassification of spaces, and the dispossession of the rights, interests, territories, and resources of indigenous peoples (ECLAC 2014).
In this context, a question arises: What is contributing to the behavioral change, both at the country and global levels, which leads us to conclude that a reversal in the situation has begun?
Amid pomp, traditional dance and splendor, in rural Chisamba, central Province, the President of Zambia, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, cut an elaborate ribbon donned in Zambian colors of red, black, green and orange to lay a foundation stone to mark the construction of the Mwomboshi Dam. The dam construction is funded by the World Bank under the Irrigation Development and Support Project (ISDP) with the amount of $37 million. Not only did I attend this significant ground-breaking ceremony as a representative of the World Bank Group (WBG), but I also took the opportunity to say a Bemba agriculture idiom I have been taught by my colleagues at the office.
Igor Tkach is a remarkable man.
As he stands tall and proud in the middle of one of the fields, his voice is loud and clear. And even the bitterly cold wind couldn’t stop him from telling his story. “We had absolutely nothing. Even the window frames were looted,” he said. He was talking about those turbulent times following the collapse of the Soviet Union. As he talked, I recalled my own Soviet-era childhood. What he was saying hit close to home.
On a recent field trip to northern Bangladesh, the smiles of Habibur, a young man working in a rice field under the scotching sun caught my attention. Habibur, 28, looked content amidst the wide green vista of fields.
I learned that his life had not been easy. His father died when Habibur was around four years old, and the family had no land. His young widowed mother started working as a day laborer to raise her only child. Habibur began working too in his mid-teens. Mother and son struggled, but they managed to save some money. They first bought a cow, and later Habibur leased land for rice cultivation. This is a common practice in rural Bangladesh, where the yield is divided between the farmer and the owner of the land.