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Agriculture and Rural Development

A tipping point for water

Junaid Kamal Ahmad's picture

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This blog originally appeared on The Huffington Post as part of a series, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals." 

As a sector in world affairs, water is reaching a tipping point. Over the next two decades, the global push for food and energy security and for sustaining urbanization will place unprecedented demands on water.

Ours is a "thirsty" world, in which agriculture and energy compete with the needs of cities. At the same time, climate change may worsen the situation by increasing water stress and extreme-weather events. Hence, the water and climate nexus can no longer be a side event at global-climate talks. All of this is happening while the important push for universal access to water and sanitation services -- despite the impressive gains over the past several decades -- remains an unfinished agenda.

Old fuel for a new future: the potential of wood energy

Paula Caballero's picture
A woman buying a clean cookstove in Tanzania. Klas Sander / World Bank

The use of wood energy – including firewood and charcoal – is largely considered an option of last resort. It evokes time-consuming wood collection, health hazards and small-scale fuel used by poor families in rural areas where there are no other energy alternatives.

And to a certain extent this picture is accurate. A study by the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves found that women in India spend the equivalent of two weeks every year collecting firewood, which they use to cook and heat their homes. Indoor air pollution caused by the smoke from burning firewood is known to lead to severe health problems: the WHO estimates 4.3 million deaths a year worldwide attributed to diseases associated with cooking and heating with solid fuels. Incomplete combustion creates short-lived climate pollutants, which also act as powerful agents of climate change.

But wood is a valuable source of energy for many of the 2.9 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean cooking facilities, including in major cities. It fuels many industries, from brickmaking and metal processing in the Congo Basin to steel and iron production in Brazil.  

In fact, the value of charcoal production in Africa was estimated at more than $8 billion in 2007, creating livelihoods for about seven million women and men, and catering to a rapidly growing urban demand. From this standpoint, wood energy makes up an enterprise of industrial scale. 

So, instead of disregarding wood energy as outdated, we must think of the economic, social and environmental benefits that would derive from modernizing its use. After all, wood energy is still one of the most widespread renewable fuels at our disposal. We already have the technological know-how to enhance the sustainability of wood energy value chains. Across the European Union’s 28 member states, wood and solid biofuels produced through “modern” methods accounted for nearly half of total primary energy from renewables in 2012.

Solar energy brings smiles to healthy babies and happy farmers

Amit Jain's picture
A solar irrigation pump in Siliguri Region, West Bengal, India. (Photo by Amit Jain / World Bank)

Last month, I met an obstetrician in India and in the course of conversation, asked her how many babies she had delivered.
 
“After ten thousand babies, I stopped counting,” she said.
 
Naturally, I was curious to know if anything scared her when she’s delivering a child. Her answer: “I pray that there is electricity for sterilized water and other equipment during the process.”
 
The obstetrician is also the project director for part of a World Bank health project in Nagaland—a remote Northeastern state in India. She is an ardent advocate for the expansion and promotion of solar energy in the primary health care sector because she, like many of her colleagues, believes that more solar energy in the health sector can spur a revolution by boosting the standard and reliability of health delivery services in the country.
 
When I joined the World Bank four months ago as a renewable energy specialist, I had always considered solar in the context of electricity for homes and businesses. But working with other sectors and exploring solar interventions in increasing crop productivity, safe drinking water and child delivery in health centers has shown me the massive potential solar energy has to help other areas of development as well. There is a clear business case for why solar is fast becoming a mainstream technology for providing power even in non-energy sectors like agriculture and water.
 
Until recently, the biggest hurdle in adopting solar power was the high upfront cost (more than $3 per watt before 2010) and lack of project financing for solar projects.
 
But much of that has changed. In the last four years, solar module prices have fallen more than 70% (less than $1 a watt), and per unit cost of solar power (kwh) has fallen from 30 cents per unit in 2010 to less than 8 cents per unit not only in India but also in Brazil, Chile, UAE and other countries.

The case for solar water pumps

Richard Colback's picture


The cost of solar technology has come down, way down, making it is a viable way to expand access to energy for hundreds of millions of people living in energy poverty. For farmers in developing countries, the growing availability of solar water pumps offers a viable alternative to system dependent on fossil fuel or grid electricity. While relatively limited, experience in several countries shows how solar irrigation pumps can make farmers more resilient against the erratic shifts in rainfall patterns caused by climate change or the unreliable supply and high costs of fossil fuels needed to operate water pumps. Experience also suggests a number of creative ways that potential water resource trade-offs can be addressed.

Water: At a Tipping Point

Junaid Kamal Ahmad's picture

The World Bank at World Water Week 2015

The Stockholm World Water Week’s focus on “Water for Development” comes at an opportune time. Water as a sector in world affairs is reaching a tipping point. Over the next two decades and more, the global push for food and energy security and for sustaining urbanization will place new and increasing demands on the water sector. 

Ours is a world of ‘thirsty agriculture’ and ‘thirsty energy’ competing with the needs of ‘thirsty cities.’ At the same time, climate change may potentially worsen the situation by increasing water stress as well as extreme events, reminding us that the water and climate nexus can no longer be a side event at global climate talks. All of this is happening in a context where the important agenda of access to services – despite the impressive gains over the past several decades – remains an unfinished agenda, requiring an urgent push if we are to fulfill the promise of universal access.

Despite low commodity prices, growth prospects in low-income countries remain robust

Gerard Kambou's picture
Large agricultural sectors, remittances, and public investment have cushioned the impact of sharply weaker terms of trade in commodity-exporting low-income countries (LICs). Growth in LICs was flat in 2014, but is expected to pick up in 2015 and remain robust during 2016–17.  Declining commodity prices, however, are likely to increasingly put pressure on fiscal and current account balances of LICs that rely heavily on exports of energy and metals. Many commodity-exporting LICs have limited buffers to absorb this deterioration.

What drives local food prices? Is it world prices? Weather? Seasonality? Policies? Fuel prices? Other costs?

John Baffes's picture
The question has been asked often in the context of the post-2005 commodity price boom. In a recently published working paper, What drives local food prices? Evidence from the Tanzanian maize market, we examine the factors driving movements of prices in 18 major regional maize markets in Tanzania.

Dispatch from Ghana: Agriculture benefits more than just farmers

Abdoulaye Toure's picture
Julius Dorsese harvests sweet potato at his farm in Ghana.
Julius Dorsese harvests sweet potato in Ghana. Materials and advice from the World Bank-funded West Africa Agriculture Productivity Program (WAAPP) have helped Dorsese grow his farm.


What happens when you help a farmer succeed?

You create opportunities, not just for the farmer, but also for his family, often improving their financial standing, health and educational prospects.

But the impact goes much further than that. When you give a farmer tools to succeed, you can help grow prosperity in his community, and build a food system that can feed everyone, every day, everywhere—nutritiously and sustainably. 

This is the story in West Africa, where the World Bank-funded West Africa Agriculture Productivity Program (WAAPP) has helped 13 countries generate, improve and disseminate agriculture technology to pave the way for a food-secure future for Africa.  Already, WAAPP has developed 116 technologies that have been adopted by and directly benefited up to 2.5 million people across West Africa—or 17 million people in total, if you count both direct and indirect beneficiaries. WAAPP has also improved productivity on up to 2.74 million hectares of farmland and is estimated to have increased food production in West Africa by more than 3 million tons.

Africa’s Hidden Underemployment Sink

Ellen McCullough's picture

Labor productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa has been garnering attention recently. Development economists focus on labor productivity because it tends to be strongly associated with overall well-being measures, especially for the poor, who are reliably endowed with time, but often little else in the way of productive assets.
 
Cross-sector gaps in labor productivity are key indicators of structural change, which is the economy-wide process by which labor shifts from low-productivity industries such as agriculture, to those that are higher-productivity, such as industry and services. This process underpins development and is premised on large cross-sector gaps in productivity. Economists expect these gaps to be quite large in the poorest countries, and to get smaller as labor shifts out of agriculture. Recent evidence suggests these forces are indeed at work in Sub-Saharan Africa.
 


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