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Agriculture and Rural Development

How we can feed the world: Interview with Ethel Sennhauser

Kalyan Panja's picture
A climate-smart farm in Kenya. © V. Atakos/CGIAR

Editor’s note: Kalyan Panja was the grand prize winner of our first Spring Meetings blogging contest. His winning post covered two events related to food and agriculture. His prize was the opportunity to interview Ethel Sennhauser, the World Bank’s director of agriculture. 

What is the most striking crisis in the agricultural sector that needs to be addressed urgently?

The world needs to feed 9 billion people by 2050 — but climate change, declining soil health, and overstretched resources could drive down agricultural productivity in the long run. Droughts and extreme weather events are already having a negative impact on farming and productivity. In the future, yields could drop by more than 25%.

Blog post of the month: “We are looking at gold and calling it rock”: Supporting communities to calculate the replacement costs of their communal lands and natural resources

Rachael Knight's picture

Boundary tree planting committeeEach month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In May 2015, the featured blog post is " “We are looking at gold and calling it rock”: Supporting communities to calculate the replacement costs of their communal lands and natural resources".

Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, investors are increasingly approaching rural communities seeking land for logging, mining, and agribusiness ventures. In response, international and national advocacy organizations are stepping forward to provide support to communities in negotiations with investors, often with a focus on ensuring adherence to international laws such as the right to free, prior, informed consent (FPIC).[1] Yet even in situations when investors have followed FPIC principles and conducted a formal “consultation” to seek community consent to their proposed business venture, these consultations are generally conducted in a context of significant power and information asymmetries. Communities are frequently pressured by high-level government officials to consent to deals that they do not fully understand or desire. Community members may not be aware of the rental value of their land on the national market, the expected annual profits the investor will gain from the venture, the overall net worth of the investors’ company, and other financial information critical to negotiating a fair contractual agreement, including the value they themselves are deriving from their common lands. As a result, they have difficulty calculating an appropriate rental cost that leaves them in an equal or better position than before the investment.

Deltas Drained: Dealing with population migration in Bangladesh

Sylvia Szabo's picture

 Dealing with population migration in Bangladesh

Delta regions constitute only 5% of the land area but are home to more than 500 million people. The proportion of deltas susceptible to flooding is projected to further increase, thus affecting negatively the livelihoods of local populations, in particular farmer communities.

Recently, the International Council for Science (ICSU) endorsed the Global Sustainable Deltas Initiative (SD2015). The objective of this initiative is to bring attention to the importance and vulnerabilities of delta regions worldwide. To this aim, the University of Minnesota-led Belmont Forum DELTAS project is working to create a global vision for deltas through scientific integration, collection and sharing of data and stakeholder engagement.

Goals (SDGs), now is the time to consider these delta specific challenges in a broader context.

Connecting the dots in 2015 for sustainable development

Paula Caballero's picture
View from the River Congo between Kinshasa and Lukolela, DR Congo. Photo by Ollivier Girard for CIFOR via Creative CommonsWhat will 2015 stand for? Only half-way through the year, it may be risky to make predictions. But 2015, a year in which the international community is supposed to forge new deals for climate action and sustainable development, should be a year rich in connections. A year in which the health of the planet is finally understood to be of central concern to the future of people. A year in which the management of natural resources – from fish stocks and fresh water, to fertile soil, forest habitats and the carbon in the atmosphere - is understood to have significant national, international and inter-generational consequences.

Awareness is certainly progressing. From the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil - a country that hosts nothing less than the mighty Amazon River, to the farmlands of California, people are coming to the realization that resources such as water are not limitless. More and more businesses are looking at the security of their supply chains and the footprint of their operations with zeal fueled by self-interest. And countries seem poised to adopt Sustainable Development Goals that signal an understanding that economic, social and environmental issues are inherently interdependent.

Climate change, water shortages and other environmental crises are bringing home the message loud and clear: we need to connect the dots between human actions across the landscape and seascape, or the earth will cease to care for us. It will cease to grow food, to store water, to host fish and pollinators, to provide energy, medicine and timber. Changing temperatures will stress systems already overwhelmed by unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, while a growing middle class will further strain planetary boundaries.

How can we help economies develop better, for lasting poverty reduction and prosperity, within the limits of natural resources? How can we make more rational use of natural and financial resources to maximize social and economic benefits and reduce carbon emissions while increasing our resilience to climate extremes?

A real-time food security information system is a Big Data reality

John Corbett's picture
Today, all the necessary information assets are available to provide actionable insight to farmers: models, real-time local weather, crop and agronomic insight and calendars. What is also emerging is the technology to deliver actionable insights directly into the hands of farmers: information and communication technologies (ICTs) including cell phones, tablets and other personal communication tools.   

​With a cell phone in hand, a farmer becomes connected to a network of invaluable – and timely – information. There is greater demand for information as extreme weather variability necessitates new farming practices. Local and timely insights help inform farmer decisions. Big Data methods and practices, meanwhile, ensure that this multi-directional information contributes across the agricultural value chain as input providers and produce buyers are also informed.

The warming of the atmosphere is leading to a tremendous increase in weather variability. This variability affects agriculture in a multitude of ways and most insidiously for farmers, in the uncertainty that impacts each step in their production and livelihoods. 

The most common human reaction to uncertain times is to become more risk averse.  For our planet’s 570+ million small-holder farmers, this means lower productivity. With the impeding population surge, particularly in Africa, and diet changes requiring “70 percent more food production,” change must come now.

Bangladesh: The challenges of living in a delta country

Lia Sieghart's picture

Deltas are often described as cradles of civilization. They are the testing grounds for early agriculture and the birthplace of hydraulic engineering as we attempted to shape the landscape to suit our needs.

Deltas are the unique result of the interaction of rivers and tidal processes resulting in the largest sedimentary deposits in the world. Although comprising only 5% of the land area, deltas have up to 10 times higher than average population—a number, which is increasing rapidly, especially for deltas in Asia.

Low lying, deltas are widely recognized as highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly sea-level rise and changes in runoff, as well as being subject to stresses imposed by human modification of catchment and delta plain land use.

Poverty Reduction: Sorting Through the Hype

Berk Ozler's picture
After seeing PowerPoint slides of the preliminary findings over the course of more than a year, it’s nice to be able to report that the six-country study that is evaluating the “ultra-poor graduation” approach (originally associated with BRAC) is finally out.

Food for thought

Kalyan Panja's picture
Webcast Replay

Appetizer of grasshoppers, seaweed soup, and as the main course, man-made burgers on the grill. Been twisting the nose? Yet we should get used to similar menus. According to UN estimates, to feed the 2.5 billion additional people, according to some forecasts, who will populate the Earth in 2050, we will need to double world food production, reduce waste, and experiment with food alternatives.

Maintaining momentum in Myanmar

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture

Myanmar is undergoing a historic transition. After decades of armed conflict and economic stagnation, the country is beginning to make important strides toward realizing its potential and the aspirations of its people.

Our engagement in Myanmar started more than 60 years ago when it became a member of the World Bank, soon after gaining independence from British rule.

Back in 1955, the Bank’s first economic report stated: “the lack of security remains a disrupting influence on the economic life of the country” while “the long term economic potentials are bright” on account of its moderate population growth and abundant natural resources. It also noted the importance of “encouraging private sector enterprise to improve the standard of living of the people”— these are topics that continue to resonate in today’s development discourse.

In the early 1950s, Myanmar’s GDP per-capita was comparable to that of Thailand, Korea, and Indonesia.  Like others in the region, Myanmar was coming out from colonial rule and a period of struggle. Sixty years on, Myanmar has a per capita GDP just above $1,100, less than one third the average for ASEAN countries and one of the lowest in East Asia.

The good news is that Myanmar has begun the catch up process. Major political and economic reforms since 2011 have increased civil liberties, reduced armed conflict, and removed constraints to trade and private enterprise that long held back the economy.

Nepal needs your support

Saurav Rana's picture
Saurav Rana/World Bank
By now, all of you must have heard of the massive earthquake and numerous aftershocks that have shaken Nepal over the last few days. As I am writing this, there is another tremor, 36 hours after the initial quake.
I am lucky that my family is safe. We have been fortunate. The majority of the people in Kathmandu are camped out in makeshift tents set up at various open spaces across the city — schools, army barracks and open fields. Some of these are coordinated by the rescue workers while others are set up by local residents. In some places, cremations happen only 5 meters away from where people sleep. The rain makes it very difficult in an already emotionally scarring time. This is just in Kathmandu.
Saurav Rana/World Bank

​Rural areas, where 80% of Nepalis live, are devastated. Entire villages have disappeared, buried under landslides triggered by the multiple quakes. Where they haven't, village houses, made mainly of mud and wood, have been reduced to dust, leaving people exposed to the elements. This is happening in some of the most difficult-to-reach hilly and mountainous terrain.

The number of casualties rises by the hour. Although my family and I are safe, many of my friends have lost relatives. Many people we know no longer have their houses. Our staff’s granddaughter needs to have her leg amputated. My "Didi" who took care of me as a child and is a second mother to me - lost her cousin who was crushed when their house collapsed. She really does not even know how to begin to mourn, knowing she still has to keep herself and many other safe.

The heritage we have lost is equally unimaginable. Centuries-old temples and palace squares are down in dust. Imagine the Due Torri in Bologna or the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. crumbling into rubble. The loss has been demoralizing.

The international community has reacted swiftly and relief efforts are in full swing. Hercules and IL-76 military aircrafts have been flying around the clock bringing in supplies, relief materials and workers. Kathmandu, a valley, has only two major highways connecting it to the rest of the world by land - one with China and one with India. Reports of damage to those highways has limited what can be brought into the city by land.
Saurav Rana/World Bank

However, this is the just the beginning. The greatest challenges are yet to come. The monsoon season is just a month away. The wet monsoon months are synonymous with outbreaks of various diseases including dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis. With many people's homes destroyed, crowded camps will continue to provide refuge in the coming months. Such densely packed and crowded places with poor hygiene conditions will be ripe breeding grounds for diseases, especially in Kathmandu, where clean water is a scarcity even under normal circumstances.

Here’s my plea to everyone reading this.

The first response has been absolutely fantastic and lifted our spirits, but the support will need to be sustained over time. Relief will not only be limited to rebuilding but also preventing disease outbreaks, which will be more prevalent during the monsoon months.

We will need clean water, medication, waterproof clothes, and infrastructure support to build hygienic camps for people who have lost their homes.
Dealing with potential outbreaks will be more challenging with this devastation. Please support organizations involved in Nepal’s relief effort and also help build awareness around the impending health and sanitation issues.

It has been a very scary last few days. It has been the first time that I’ve had to confront my own mortality: sitting, waiting in the eerily quiet night knowing there will be another shock. But also overcoming this anxiety to help my family and everyone at home, and then, once they are safe, the rest of the country.

We need your support. Nepal needs you.

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