The pace of economic development throughout developing East Asia has been unprecedented. Despite the effect of the 1997-98 financial crisis, poverty rates in the region have been consistently declining.
Agriculture played a key role by driving growth in the early stages of industrialization. It also contributed to reducing rural poverty by including smallholders into modern food markets and creating jobs in agriculture. Nonetheless, poverty in developing East Asia is still overwhelmingly rural, reflecting a mismatch between agriculture’s shares of GDP and employment.
As incomes rise and countries urbanize, the composition of domestic food expenditure is shifting from staples to meat, horticulture and processed foods. Thus, while today’s East Asian developing economies transform, the nature of their agricultural sectors is also changing.
For most of us, watching the weather forecast on TV is an ordinary, risk-free and occasionally entertaining activity. The weatherman even makes jokes! But when your income depends on the rain or the temperature, the weather forecast is more than just an informative or entertaining diversion. Information can make or break a farmer’s prospects. Farmers get a sense of the risks they face down the road and plan their planting, harvest, use of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, crop and livestock activities and market sales around weather reports and other information—on prices, local pests and diseases, changes in credit terms and availability, and changes in regulations, among other things.
The availability and quality of such agriculture risk information is hugely important for farmers, and the potential impact of bad information can be quite costly, leading the farmer to make wrong decisions and eventually lose revenue. Information systems that have unreliable sources and/or poor data processing protocols, produce unreliable results, no matter how complex the data processing model is. In other words, one can have “garbage in – garbage out.” Information is integral to agriculture risk management, not only in the short term to hedge against large adverse events, but also in the medium and long term to adapt to climate change and adopt climate smart agriculture practices. Climate-smart agriculture programs and agriculture risk management policies are toothless unless farmers have reliable information to implement changes on the ground.
Investing in agriculture risk information systems is a cost-effective way of making sure that farmers--and other actors along the food supply chain-- make the right decisions. But agriculture risk information systems in most countries suffer from lack of capacity and funding. Mexico, a country with an important agriculture sector, does not have information on market prices of agriculture products like maize, which is why a new Bank project aims to strengthen their capacity in this area. Mexico is not alone. Argentina solved this same problem recently with World Bank support, creating a market price information system for basic grains.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country located high in the eastern Himalayan mountain range with its population 760,000. Up until about 20 years ago, the country was isolated from the world; Bhutan’s first ever television broadcast occurred in 1999. Since then, information communications technology (ICT) has made rapid advancement. Mobile subscriptions increased from 0.4 per 100 people in 2003 to 87 in 2015. The proportion of people using the internet have increased from 0.1% in 1999 to 40% in 2015. Today, all 20 districts and 201 (out of 205) sub-districts are connected through fiber optic cables.
The World Bank’s 2016 World Development Report on “Digital Dividends” argues that digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery. Use of ICT for development is especially applicable to small states with populations of less than 1.5 million. Another report, “World Bank Group Engagement with Small States” finds that ICT investments can help reduce economic isolation, lessen barriers to trade, promote tourism, and improve mobility. These messages are highly relevant to Bhutan today.
The Government has enthusiastically adopted the use ICT to improve its services to its citizens as described in Bhutan ICT Roadmap and Bhutan E-Government Masterplan. The Government to Citizen (G2C) program, launched in 2005, provides a one-stop-shop for more than 100 services such as procuring a passport. The national ePayment Gateway Infrastructure, established by the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA), the central bank, has enabled citizens to pay for some public services online. Recently, the National Land Commission (NLC) launched eCitizen Portal - an online one-stop shop for transferring property titles online. This has reduced the number of days to transfer ownership of a property from 90 days to 62 days in the capital, Thimphu. More importantly, the NLC is reaching out to the private sector to seek feedback on how to improve its usability by piloting a feedback survey using an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) tool for the first time in Bhutan. The government has also introduced an electronic government procurement system (e-GP) to make optimal use of resources. Given the size of the budget (exceeding 30 percent of GDP), the adoption of e-GP will contribute to effective use of public resources. The World Bank Group has been supporting these efforts through various instruments such as the second Development Policy Credit: Fiscal Sustainability and Investment Climate, which helped get the eCitizen Portal off the ground.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development rightfully points out that sustainability has three dimensions: economic, environmental, and social. The first two are well understood and well measured.
Economic sustainability has a whole strand of literature and the World Bank and IMF devote a lot of attention to debt and fiscal sustainability in their reports. Just open any Article 4 consultation or any public expenditure review and you will find some form of fiscal or debt sustainability analysis.
The same can be said about environmental sustainability. Since Cancun (COP16), countries prepare National Adaptation Plans, and since COP 21, they have prepared Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which focus on domestic mitigation measures to address climate change.
Cross-sector collaboration is more important than ever – and needs to be done in a better way. Governments now face a $2.5 trillion funding gap to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, and will need $90 trillion in public private investment to slow the dangerous effects of climate change, according to a UN report.
The potential for partnerships to solve problems faced by the public sector dominates the news: in the United States, the new government has announced plans to prop up a $1 trillion infrastructure plan with public private partnership (PPP) financing. In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, questions have arisen over the UK’s current method of outsourcing.
With ever-shrinking government budgets, the need for collaboration across all sectors – not just infrastructure, but environment, education, migration and many others – is more pressing than ever. Now is the time for government to get it right.
I was raised in a small town called Hornsea on England’s east coast, a magnificent place that attracts tourists but is eroding faster than the rest of Europe. Some of the impressive, clay cliffs are literally crumbling. Local roads and the old settlement and have fallen into the sea. More than once, forward-planning residents have demolished and rebuilt their houses from salvaged materials as their coast recedes.
These days, it’s rare to open a newspaper (or scroll through a blog) without reading about a disaster striking somewhere in the world. Often, these disasters affect the very same countries that we support in our projects every day at the World Bank, and we watch helplessly as decades of development progress are erased within minutes, hours, or days. Disasters cause substantial losses in every country the World Bank operates in. It is truly not a question of if, but when, the next disaster will strike.
It’s important, then, that when we, along with our private-sector and government partners, always ask, “are our projects resilient to cyclone? What about extreme heat, or volcanic eruptions? In 50 years, will this project still be protected from increasing instances of flooding, landslides, and drought?”
She was seven when she survived a night of horror. Her home in Nigeria was marked for an attack that night for belonging to the ‘wrong’ ethnic group. My friend and the rest of her family were destined to be killed.
But she survived. Her neighbors who noticed the mark alerted them and helped them escape at a time when their other neighbors were being executed and even burned alive. That night, my friend saw a man die in very violent circumstances. The shock was so intense that she could not speak for two weeks.