Call to focus on agriculture

Kathmandu, October 23:

World Bank (WB) has warned that the international goal of reducing extreme poverty and hunger by half by 2015 will not be reached unless neglect and under-investment in the agricultural and rural sectors over the past 20 years is reversed.

South Asian countries are facing an unprecedented opportunity to reduce massive poverty and confront widening rural-urban income disparities. The latest World Development Report entitled ‘Agriculture for Development’, urges greater investment in agriculture in transforming economies, most of which are in Asia, is vital to the welfare of 600 million rural poor living in those countries.

The report has included Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as transforming countries in South Asia, while Afghanistan and Nepal are agriculture-based countries.

In the transforming countries, agriculture is no longer a major source of economic gro-wth, contributing on average only seven per cent to GDP growth, but poverty remains ov-erwhelmingly rural (82 per cent of all poor). The scenario is still bleak in the agriculture-based countries where agriculture is a major source of growth, accounting for 32 per cent of GDP on average-mainly because agriculture is a large share of GDP-and most of the poor are in rural areas (70 per cent).

The report has pointed out that agriculture can be the main source of growth for the agriculture-based countries and can reduce poverty and improve the environment, albeit in different ways. This requires improving the asset position of the rural poor, making smallholder far-ming more competitive and su-stainable, diversifying income sources toward the labour market and rural non-farm economy, and facilitating successful migration out of agriculture.

For Afghanistan and Nepal, the report states that their main priority should be to increase productivity, especially among smallholders whose livelihoods depend strongly on agriculture.

For its part, WB has committed to increasing its support for agriculture and rural development, following a decline in lending in the 1980s and 1990s. In fiscal year 2007 commitment reached $3.1 billion, marking an increase for the fourth straight year. “Rural poverty accounts for an extraordinary 82 per cent of total poverty in transforming countries,” said Robert B Zoellick, World Bank Group president.