WASHINGTON, DC – The World Bank’s new President, Robert Zoellick, declared this past Sunday that agriculture must be placed at the center of the development agenda. The agenda is being further discussed today, Monday, October, 22, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also joins its sister organization in planning policies for the upcoming year.
Currently, only about 4 percent of official World Bank development funds go toward agriculture. This is an astonishingly small number considering that of the 900 million people living off less than one dollar a day, 75 percent of them live in rural agricultural areas.
The World Bank and IMF meetings follow the last week’s release of the 2008 World Development Report (WDR). Titled ‘Agriculture for Development,’ the report outlines how the agricultural sector has been neglected and suffered greatly from underinvestment over the past 20 years. It further advocates that raising GDP through agricultural growth is much more effective in reducing poverty than GDP growth induced by the development of other sectors.
By 2015, the World Bank Group had proposed to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by half. In order to do so, President Zoellick explains “we need to give agriculture more prominence across the board. At the global level, countries must deliver on vital reforms such as cutting distorting subsidies and opening markets, while civil society groups, especially farmer organizations, need more say in setting the agricultural agenda.”
The WDR mentions how the agriculture policies of rich countries are harming poor economies. United States government cotton subsidies, for example, depress textile prices in African markets. Furthermore, their subsidies for biofuels increase food prices worldwide and make it difficult for small producers to export. The report adds that since industrialized countries are major contributors to global warming and climate change, they also need to do more to help poor farmers adapt their production to climate change.
Rex Nutting, Washington Bureau Chief of MarketWatch, concludes, “After years of preaching the benefits of urbanizing and industrializing as the best path of development, the World Bank is going back to the roots – agriculture.”