What’s next for ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’?


June 1st, 2017

Each year the World Bank bring together their country representatives from around the globe to measure progress and push forward on new initiatives.  ‘World Bank land’ in Washington DC becomes a bustling mini-city within a city. Even the bus stops get the messages out.  My favourite this year was Rich countries shouldn’t define poverty for poor countries’world bank

I was there to participate in a panel discussing the relevance and progress of their four year pilot of the Enabling the Business of Agriculture program (EBA).

Work began on this in 2013, funded by donors like DFID, USAID and Gates Foundation. It set out to become a high profile global programme that assesses countries regulatory environment for agri-business. The intention is to provide governments and others with information which will help them to make better policy and investment decisions.

Over the past four years Practical Action has been engaging with this program because we know that:

  1. Farmers and other agri-business players are deeply affected by the enabling environment and, whatever the context, it can have a direct impact on their ability to make money from their activities. Part of this is determined by the regulatory environment, but only part.  Our work highlights many more issues not covered by the EBA.
  2. Regardless of what NGOs think of tools like the EBA, they can be influential, whether we like them or not! The World Bank’s flagship program Doing Business is in its 14th year and has been shown to shape regulation in the 190 countries that use it. So however imperfect, we recognise that this type of information is used by policy makers and investors.

Throughout the pilot phase the EBA program has had harsh criticism from a high profile campaign Our Land Our Business. This group are concerned that the EBA will “create a race-to-the-bottom between countries as they clamor for World Bank investment dollars”.

Practical Action has not joined this campaign but instead has been working closely with other INGOs like Christian Aid to engage with the EBA team to push for a stronger focus on:

  • Ending poverty – we’ve argued for the EBA to focus more on those aspects that will promote inclusion, i.e. benefit smallholders and others who struggle to achieve gains from agri-business, particularly women, despite their dependency on the sector for their livelihoods.

end povertyWe want this ambition to move from obscurity to full visibility. A bit like these pictures I took of the World Bank building during the meetings. A big (literally!) reminder for all of the primary purpose of the World Bank.

  • Long-term environmental sustainability, making agricultural sectors towards fit for purpose in a changing climate. This needs to be bedded into key areas of the EBA (seeds, fertiliser, mechanisation) not sitting on its own, as a special island of optimism without regulatory teeth.

Agri-business as usual is not an option

There is global consensus that agri-business as usual is no longer an option. Kristalina Georgieva the World Bank’s CEO, opened a packed session on “The Future of Food” with a strong call for changes to a failing food system. We’re interested in how the EBA can support (as opposed to undermine) those changes to happen. The ‘Our Land our Business’ campaign is deeply concerned that it will exacerbate the failings of the food system. We are more optimistic. Over four years we’ve had some good conversations with the EBA team. However it’s been challenging for them to incorporate feedback because of their very tight data collection schedule and the limitations of the tool, because the donor mandate of the project means the focus is solely on regulation.

EBA2017-Report17 1It is encouraging to see that in this recent progress report  attention is given to both environmental sustainability and gender. The EBA team are clear that it’s still very much work in progress. They are moving the program to biennial data collection and reporting which is very positive because it means they can take some time to address the more challenging issues. This is vital if the EBA is not to skew decision-making on agriculture in the future.  For the next phase of this program as they continue to develop and expand it there needs to be a clear intent to deliver:

  • Deeper engagement and meaningful consultation in-country – dedicated to incorporating views of agri-business and civil society as well as public actors.
  • More attention on inclusion and environmental sustainability – integrate them properly into the EBA so they are in the data sets and scores which will get the attention of policy makers. Make them what this is about. It’s a great opportunity for the EBA to make the shift that is needed actually happen.

It is so important for users and supporters of the EBA to take a balanced approach, given that regulation is a very small part of the picture when it comes to an effective enabling environment for agriculture. In particular the World Bank and the EBA donors should focus on delivering the SDGs by supporting wider investment in processes that will shift towards a more inclusive and sustainable agriculture.

For Practical Action that means investing in systems that rely on fewer external inputs, creating lower risk agriculture for the majority.

Leave a reply