Latin America & Caribbean
Recently, I was once again confronted with a puzzling situation I have seen too often during the course of my career: flat growth curves for children. This especially worried me in light of the current context of rising food prices and global economic instability, and the impact that previous crises have had on the nutritional status of mothers and children.
The prerequisites to get a good job in today’s economy are as uncertain as the economy itself. Some experts emphasize intelligence. Others say high math and reading skills are a must. Yet some experts laud entrepreneurship and that one need only to express themselves in a competitive and globalized world.
Obviously, all of this is important. Nevertheless, economists in recent years have discovered something that employers, psychologists and many educators and parents have known for a long time. A person’s socio-emotional qualities or “skills” are at least as important as their cognitive capacity or whatever knowledge they may have to place themselves in a changing labor market.
The ability to be responsible, punctual, organized, persevering, interact with others, react and adapt to new situations and experiences, describes –along with cognitive capacity– the generic abilities that are essential in a “well educated” labor force, one prepared to confront the challenges of the future.
Colombia, a sophisticated middle income country, strives for innovative development solutions. Over the past years, the country made steady development progress in promoting sustainable growth and lasting peace, continued investments in infrastructure as well as strengthening more inclusive social policies. However, despite these favorable economic trends, the level of poverty, inequality and regional disparities persists and more needs to be done.
The current global context means that for development strategies to be effective, they have to include innovative and effective approaches that bring together the best inputs from different sectors. And that’s where the World Bank comes in. Today, the World Bank Group Executive Board endorsed its new five year Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) for Colombia, which will help the South American country consolidate economic reforms, improve infrastructure development and enhance the effectiveness of social programs.
From any tall building in Guatemala City you have a bird's eye view of a common site in cities across Latin America and the Caribbean: lodged in the alleys and walkways between modern highrises, low tin-roof structures shelter the hard world of the informal economy.
Those are usually the structures of small businesses, such as the one belonging to Cristina Lajuj's, currently feeling the pressure of the spiral of crime and violence that is threatening Central America's own prosperity. For more than 11 years, Lajuj has been making a living selling tortillas and other typical dishes. In a space just off a parking lot and smaller than a Washington DC food truck, five women begin mixing corn flour at 6:30 every morning. By 8AM a basket full of warm tortillas and a small plate of cheese slices await the clientele of office workers, delivery men and other street vendors.
Nous voilà de nouveau en train d'essayer de disséquer les causes profondes de la hausse des prix alimentaires qui ont repris leur progression haletante en direction des niveaux record de 2008. Est-ce là le résultat de la spéculation sur les marchés des produits ? de l'envol de la demande de céréales fourragères dans les pays asiatiques ? de la réaffectation de terres jusque là consacrées à la culture de produits alimentaires à la production de biocombustibles ? Pour nos spécialistes de l'agriculture, de l'énergie et des transports, la réponse est claire : « oui, oui et encore oui ».
Once again we find ourselves trying to dissect the root causes of food price increases as they bump and grind their way back toward their 2008 peaks. Is it speculation in commodity markets? Is it the booming demand from Asia for feed grains? Is it land use switching out from food crops to biofuels? The sentiment among our agriculture, energy and transport specialists is that the answer to these questions is: "Yes. All of the above."
Social protection programs have proven critical to stop the most vulnerable Latin Americans from falling into extreme poverty during the recent economic crisis, argues an Independent Evaluation Group Report. World Bank expert Rafael Rofman explains in this video blog how these programs have benefitted the poor in Argentina.
Older readers may still remember the Prebisch-Singer thesis: the proposition that developing countries suffered from a "secular" deterioration in their terms of trade vis-à-vis industrial countries, because commodity prices tended to exhibit a long-run decline relative to those of manufactures…. The argument implied that poor countries, and the poor farmers that constituted the bulk of their population, were victims of sustained declines in the price of food, and other primary commodities, of which they were net producers.
It's only fitting that a country largely built on mineral abundance has been the venue for a critical discussion on how to manage natural resource wealth.
A group of World Bank experts, including myself, met in Johannesburg last week with high-level policy makers, civil society representatives and academics, to exchange experiences and enhance our understanding of the theoretical and practical issues unique to resource-dependent economies. As a long-standing major commodity exporting region, Latin America has many lessons of experience – positive and negative -- to share with other developing regions on management of the wealth from natural resources.