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BY WARREN PAGE
The World Bank is a global leader in
shaping thinking on development
assistance and aid. Its aim is to help
poor people help themselves and
their environment by providing
resources, knowledge and building capacity
and forging partnerships in the public and
Within the World Bank, the Development
Research Group seeks answers to some of
the most pressing questions in development.
Dr Will Martin heads the Agriculture and Rural
Development research program within this group.
He recently spoke to Partners magazine about
some of the challenges facing agriculture today.
Partners: What is the mandate of the Agriculture
and Rural Development research team?
Dr Martin: We have a team of 10 research
economists leading policy-oriented research on
key issues in agriculture and rural development.
Our work is organised into four broad themes:
n agricultural productivity, factor markets and
n rural infrastructure and governance
n agriculture and the environment
n price incentives, trade and food security.
Under our first theme, we place emphasis on
securing the improvements in productivity that
are central to lifting people from poverty---how,
for instance, might a new 'green revolution' be
secured in Africa?
We also focus on improvements in land
tenure, which can achieve efficiency and
equity. Another issue in developing countries
is facilitating the movement of workers out
of agriculture---by being drawn into other
activities, rather than by being driven from the
land by poverty and desperation.
Under our infrastructure and governance
theme we examine the contribution to poverty
reduction arising from rural infrastructure
investments such as rural roads and
electrification. We are also analysing some
of the policy problems that arise in using
common-pool resources such as groundwater.
Another challenge lies in learning what works
when governments decentralise authority
and responsibility to the local level through
Under our third theme, agriculture and the
environment, we are examining the potential
opportunities for agriculture to contribute to
mitigating carbon emissions, plus the need and
scope for adaptation to climate change in India
Our final theme of price incentives, trade
and food security addresses the distortions to
agricultural incentives that affect the performance
of the farm sector and the economy more
generally---measuring and explaining these
developments, and assessing their importance
for world prices and their volatility. It also includes
research on the role of trade, productivity growth
and stockholding in ensuring food security for all.
How critical is policy in shaping the
environment for agricultural innovation?
Three-quarters of poor people live in rural
areas and the majority depend on farming for
their livelihoods. Improvements in agricultural
productivity are critically important, not just for
raising incomes in farming, but for lowering the
cost of food to low-income consumers who
spend up to three-quarters of their income on
food. Policies on research, development and
extension are critical to improving agricultural
productivity in developing countries.
The challenge is to ensure a flow of
new techniques that enable increases in
productivity. This was achieved in Asia during
the Green Revolution but has proved more
difficult in Africa, for which we now have a new
'Green Revolution for Africa' project.
Once new technologies become available,
a second set of challenges emerges. Farmers
need to learn about the new approaches, they
need finance to implement some of them,
they need secure title to land so they can make
any necessary investments, they need decent
transport to obtain inputs and to get their
products out, and they need prices that make it
Policies on land tenure are therefore an
important factor. Some key findings include
the need to keep the cost of land registration
low, and to ensure that the rights of existing
stakeholders are adequately protected.
With regards to a 'green revolution' in Africa,
how hopeful should we be in light of policy
environments in Africa?
There are good reasons for optimism if we
have the right technologies and a focus on
Durian fruit on the way to market in Vietnam's Mekong Delta.
PHOTO: BRAD COLLIS
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