|March 2008 - Titled 'Agriculture for Development', the new World Development Report says the agricultural and rural sectors have suffered from neglect and underinvestment over the past 20 years.
While 75% of the world’s poor live in rural areas, a mere 4 percent of official development assistance goes to agriculture in developing countries. In Tunisia, where the rural population represented around 35% of the total population in 2005, 7% of public funds were spent on the agriculture sector.
According to the WDR, GDP growth originating in agriculture is about four times more effective in reducing poverty than GDP growth originating outside the sector.
In transforming countries such as China, India, and Morocco, agriculture contributes on average only 7 percent to GDP growth, but lagging rural incomes could be a major source of political tensions. In Tunisia, this contribution is 11%.
According to the report, it is necessary to inject more dynamism in the rural and agriculture sectors to reduce the disparities between rural and urban income and reduce poverty, but without falling into the trap of subsidies and protectionism that block growth and increase the tax burden on poor consumers.
Rich countries need to reform certain policies that discriminate against the poor
• For example, it is vital that the United States reduces cotton subsidies which depress prices for African smallholders.
• In the emerging area of biofuels, the problem is both restrictive tariffs and heavy subsidies in rich countries, which drive up food prices and limit export opportunities for efficient developing country producers.
• The report also asserts that industrialized countries that were the major contributors to global warming urgently need to do more to help poor farmers adapt their production systems to climate change.
A dynamic ‘agriculture for development’ agenda
According to Robert B. Zoellick, World Bank Group President, “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.”
Other possibilities. Encourage small scale operators to enter rapidly expanding markets for high-value products—especially horticulture, poultry, fish, and dairy which offer an opportunity to diversify farming systems and develop a competitive and labor-intensive smallholder sector.
Measures to protect the environment
The report recommends measures to achieve more sustainable production systems and outlines incentives to protect the environment: agriculture consumes 85 percent of the world’s utilized water and the sector contributes to deforestation, land degradation, and pollution
Applying volumetric charges for irrigation water has run into obstacles in many developing countries— exceptions are Armenia, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, South Africa, and Tunisia.
• The rural population represented 35.1% of total population (2003-2005)
• Women in the agricultural force during the same period was 41.7% (2003-2005)
• Agricultural exports represent 9.3% of total exports in Tunisia (2005)
• The value added of agriculture represented 11% of the GDP (2006)