From ‘Poverty to Prosperity’ – the World Bank’s big new ambition

Last week I was in Washington for the World Bank’s annual meetings where I heard Richard Quest of CNN interview President Jim Yong Kim about the Bank’s new strategy and their ambition to halve global poverty by 2020 to put them on track to their big goal to end extreme poverty by 2030.

World Bank's annual meeting in Washington
World Bank’s annual meeting in Washington

Much of this progress is expected to come from economic growth and since agriculture is the foundation of many of the least developed nation’s economies it means we need to pay particular attention to how agricultural systems will be expected to ‘transform’. Practical Action knows that agriculture is critical to the rural communities who depend on it for their livelihoods and to the growing numbers of urban poor who want access to affordable and nutritious food. We have been working with colleagues in the Africa Smallholder Farmers Group to talk to teams in the World Bank and IMF about their new initiative called ‘Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture’. Last week I had opportunities to meet the teams and some of the Executive Directors in the countries where the BBA will be piloted.

Our two big ‘asks’, that the BBA focuses on the capacity needs of smallholder farmers and that it takes account of sustainability, were well received by the teams and the BBA donors we met (Gates, USAID and the Danish government). In a panel presentation I shared our view that the BBA has a flawed logic. It assumes that by improving the enabling environment around smallholder farmers then that will result in better outcomes for them and ultimately agricultural systems will be improved. We know from our on-the-ground experience that this is not the case.

I also asked the World Bank team to take another look at sustainability. Their own President has recently highlighted that sustainable agricultural systems are vitally important particularly in the context of a changing climate, more unpredictable and in some cases extreme weather. Ecosystem services that underpin agricultural production are under pressure and the BBA needs to promote and incentivise the take-up of agro-ecological farming approaches. Sustainability can’t be an ‘add-on’ to the BBA and there is a strong case to mainstream indicators on sustainability across all areas of the BBA– ultimately this will make the systems more efficient and resilient.

Torrential rain in Washington DC

Torrential rain in Washington DC

Outside the World Bank building the US Capital Washington DC was struggling to function, the government in shut-down and torrential rain causing gridlock in transport systems. Yet inside I found people from different countries and agencies wanting to make things work differently in some of the most challenging situations in the globe. Transforming agricultural systems to benefit the most marginalised does not have a simple ‘roadmap’ for success. My experience last week was that there are policy makers, World Bank staff, donors and NGOs keen to work together to make this an initiative that could be part of ending poverty by 2030.

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