Agriculture for development (World Bank)


World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development

World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development

The theme of the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) 2008 is Agriculture for Development. A reconsideration of agriculture’s role in development has been long overdue. Developing country agriculture is caught up in the far-reaching changes brought by globalization, the advent of highly sophisticated and integrated supply chains, innovation in information technology and biosciences, and broad institutional changes—especially in the role of the state and in modes of governance and organization.
Contributed by Carmen V. Caballero on 06 Mar , 2007

Full text

Growth in agriculture makes a disproportionately positive contribution to reducing poverty. More than half of the population in developing countries lives in rural areas, where poverty is most extreme. By illuminating the links between agriculture, economic growth, and poverty reduction, this report offers a timely and nuanced assessment of how and where agriculture can best foster development.
François Bourguignon, Sr. Vice President, Chief Economist, The World Bank

For some countries, these changes have heralded renewed opportunities and benefits for agriculture. For other countries, the consequences have been quite different and food insecurity and poverty remain pervasive. Yet nearly every nation continues to face difficult decisions with respect to agriculture. Although agriculture is a private sector activity, it is uniquely dependent on good governance, wise public investments, and carefully focused public policy. An important question examined in this report is how to determine when public policy should concentrate on capturing the new growth opportunities available to agriculture and when it should concentrate on capturing opportunities in other sectors of the economy to help people exit agriculture. This report seeks to assess where, when, and how agriculture can be an effective instrument for economic development, especially development that favors the poor. It is likely to focus on strategies for:

* Unlocking agricultural growth to reduce poverty
* Seizing new opportunities for agricultural growth
* Enhancing the pro-poor character of agricultural growth
* Facilitating favorable exits from agriculture
* Achieving environmentally sustainable agricultural growth


I underscored the following sentences:

* Growth in agriculture makes a disproportionately positive contribution to reducing poverty.

* Yet nearly every nation continues to face difficult decisions with respect to agriculture.

* It is likely to focus on strategies for:

* Unlocking agricultural growth to reduce poverty
* Seizing new opportunities for agricultural growth
* Enhancing the pro-poor character of agricultural growth
* Facilitating favorable exits from agriculture
* Achieving environmentally sustainable agricultural growth.

Let us welcome this World Bank report very heartedly and hope it will strongly convince the developed and developing worlds to invest more in agriculture in the drylands and seize every opportunity for agricultural growth. No need to say that I am thinking in particular at investing in cost-effective technologies for soil conditioning, efficient use of irrigation water and fertilizers. Success stories in these fields can easily be applied at very large scale to alleviate poverty in the shortest time. For a positive look at such possibilities, please check former postings on this blog.


How to improve the life and health of women and children in dryland rural areas ?

Here is the text of my talk at the Beijing Conference on “Women and Desertification” in May 2006:


Desertification is one of the most alarming processes of environmental degradation. The General Assembly of the United Nations has underlined its deep concern for the exacerbation of desertification, particularly in Africa, and its far-reaching implications for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was called a key instrument for poverty eradication in dryland rural areas.

Generally, the combat of desertification is seen as a task for international and national organizations. Almost every country has ratified the UNCCD and in most cases the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Development Cooperation are responsible for all aspects of the Convention. Nevertheless, one knows that also non-governmental organizations (NGOs) take a lot of interesting initiatives within the framework of drought and desertification.

The Desertification Convention entered into force in 1995. In the beginning, accredited NGOs were authorized to attend the COPs only as observers. It took quite a time to let them participate in the debates. The Convention text underlines clearly the important role of women in regions affected by drought and desertification. As a large number of NGOs are specifically active in those rural areas and they develop activities in favour of the rural people, it is clear that they can play a very important role in the implementation of the Convention, in particular with actions in the field. Therefore, many NGO actions are now seen as valuable contributions to the work of the UNCCD. More and more, the field expertise of the NGOs is taken into consideration.

It sounds peculiar that many NGOs do not recognize themselves that they are combating desertification. This is the result of the fact that almost never the word “desertification” is used in the description of their projects for sustainable development. Here are some examples:

(i) Projects for improvement of the soil are normally indicated as “agronomy project”. It can be measures to limit soil erosion, to reduce land degradation or to rehabilitate land. These are typical means to combat desertification, but they are not classified as such.
(ii) Projects to improve water use by the rural people. In many cases, this is aiming at provision of drinking water (public health). Sometimes, NGO projects also contribute to efficient use of irrigation water, which would normally be classified under desertification measures.
(iii) Many NGO projects contain actions to enhance the fertility of soils and the economic properties of the soil. This is rather seen as an agronomy activity than as a desertification activity.
(iv) Actions to prevent the loss of natural vegetation and also reforestation projects are rather attached to the Biodiversity Convention (CBD).
(v) Attention for actions to combat desertification with measures focusing the alleviation of poverty in the drylands is rather poor. The direct link between poverty and land degradation is generally not recognized.

Desertification is often seen as a natural phenomenon of advancing deserts, but this is a common misperception. On the contrary, desertification is all about land degradation or losses of fertile land and biological productivity, resulting from various factors, including human activities and climatic variations. It affects one third of the earth’s surface and over a billion people, mostly in dryland areas. It contributes to food insecurity and famine, having also devastating consequences in terms of social, economic and political tensions, sometimes even causing conflicts. The rural poor people in developing countries, at the very heart of the drought problem, are particularly vulnerable, because they have to draw their means of existence from the arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Therefore, the UN General Assembly has declared 2006 the International Year of Deserts and Desertification.

Drylands host some of the most magnificent ecosystems of this world: the deserts, unique natural habitats with very diverse fauna and flora, which also host very old civilizations. The International Year of Deserts and Desertification (IYDD) therefore celebrates the beauty and heritage of the world’s deserts.

All countries and civil society organizations have been encouraged to undertake special initiatives to mark the IYDD. A concerted effort to raise awareness of desertification aims at translating ideas, knowledge and expertise into concrete actions in the field. The best practices have been identified. Success stories in the combat of desertification and the alleviation of poverty have been largely illustrated and documented.

Remark inserted today March 10th, 2007

In May 2006 I had the honour and pleasure of being the president of a Belgian NGO, called TC-DIALOGUE Foundation, of which I described the objectives and activities for the participants in Beijing.

For personal reasons, not related to the Foundation itself, I resigned in June 2006. The Foundation is now called “Terr@dialoog” (see coordinates at the end of this posting).

Here is the text of my talk in May 2006:

Continue reading “How to improve the life and health of women and children in dryland rural areas ?”

Best way to keep container soils moist?

Working for more than 20 years already with water absorbing polymers (also called “crystals” in gardening circles !) and having developed the soil conditioning method TerraCottem (see, I was very much intrigued when I encountered on the internet a discussion forum on “the best way to keep container soils moist“.

Let me take you through some nice and sometimes amusing contributions about several topics related to moist soils (!):

Continue reading “Best way to keep container soils moist?”

Managing groundwater – Gestion de la nappe aquifère


Le nombre de forages construits dans des régions arides grandit continuellement et provoque une baisse considérable de la nappe aquifère. Il est donc nécessaire d’appliquer une gestion efficace de cette nappe afin de ne pas créer des grands problèmes de tout genre. Nous recommendons donc de se concentrer aussi sur la collecte de l’eau de pluie et sur le stockage de la pluie dans la zone de l’enracinement des plantes (20-30 cm), p.ex. avec le conditionneur de sol TerraCottem.


I have been reading an interesting article on “Managing groundwater for dry season irrigation”, written by I.M. FAISAL, S. PARVEEN and M.R. KABIR ( Should you look for the full text, please find it in “id21 natural resources highlights – water – 2006“, an annual publication of the Institute of Development Studies – University of Sussex, Brighton, UK ( to which you can easily subscribe.

The article mentioned above tells us first:

Using groundwater for dry season irrigation has been the preferred strategy of the Bangladesh govenment for many years. For example, the privatisation of irrigation in the 1990s led to huge growth in the number of shallow tube-wells. However, groundwater must be managed carefully: there is not enough information available on national groundwater resources to understand or predict long-term environmental impacts of continued use“.

Having noticed myself the dramatic fall of the groundwater level over the years 1975-2005 in many African Sahel countries, I could not agree more with the statement above. Most probably, this fall is not only caused by the well-known continuous drought in that region, but also to the ever growing number of wells and pumps. It would be wise to ring the alarm bell for any proliferation of the well-intended “humanitarian” projects to drill more and deeper wells to “bring water to people and animals“. On the contrary, it would be wiser to take better care of water harvesting and to look for more efficient water use, like these authors say.

The authors also tell us: “Most water projects in Bangladesh have a narrow focus, such as flood control, drainage or irrigation. Social, economic and environmental factors are largely ignored and there is little monitoring or evaluation. The Barind Multipurpose Development Project (BMDP) consciously tries to overcome these problems to meet the challenges of creating the physical and social infrastructure necessary for groundwater irrigation in a semi-arid area. For example, the project encourages maximum use of carefully spaced deep tube-wells (DTWs), which minimises water wastage.


The BMDP also constantly monitors quality and quantity of groundwater and aquifer levels. Thousands of poorly maintained rainwater collection tanks have been renovated.


Several positive features of this approach are mentioned:

° Water use groups, consisting of users from many different social groups and institutions, give feedback to BMDP managers to improve project performance.



° A large reforestation campaign and distribution of medicinal plant seedlings are examples of the project’s environmental improvement activities.

According to the authors several problems are encountered, the most significant being when hand wells, used to collect drinking water, began to dry up in DTW target areas. It has highlighted a need to integrate the planning of irrigation projects with drinking water supplies. This phenomenon is also widespread in semi-arid areas in Africa, and probably on other continents too.

It brings me to the following question:

Why are many people so careless about water harvesting and water stockage in the soil?

Rainwater that comes free from the sky runs off, infiltrates deep or evaporates without any human action to stop this. Oh yes, we will construct dams (or even little dikes – diguettes) and we will install expensive tube-wells and pumps. In other words, first we do nothing and then we spend a lot of energy (and money) to bring the water back where it belongs, i.e. in the rooting zone of the cultivated fields.

It would be more logic and more efficient to collect that free rainwater mechanically (in drums or bigger reservoirs/tanks) or chemically (with water stocking substances that can easily be mixed with the soil, let us say 20-30 cm/ 1 foot deep).

Ever heard about the TerraCottem soil conditioner developed at my laboratory at the University of Ghent, Belgium? Please have a look at the website and learn something about efficient use of rainwater.

Smara sans TC
Vegetable garden in the Sahara desert (Smara refugee camp, Algeria). Soil is pure desert sand without any amendment. Drip irrigation every day. Very poor production.

Jardin de légumes au Sahara (camp des réfugiés à Smara, Algérie). Le sol est du sable du désert pur sans aucun amendement. Irrigation goutte-à-goutte tous les jours. Production très pauvre.

Smara with TC
Neighbour’s garden in the same Smara refugee camp. Desert sand mixed with 50 g of TerraCottem soil conditioner/25 cm deep. Drip irrigation every two days. Magnificent production.

Le jardin du voisin dans le même camp de Smara. Sable du désert mélangé avec 50 g de conditionneur de sol TerraCottem/25 cm de profondeur. Irrigation goutte-à-goutte tous les 2 jours. Production magnifique.

Instead of letting all the rainwater become groundwater, let us use it for keeping our fields moistened for a longer period. And don’t miss that important information: TerraCottem soil conditioner is only applied one single time ! It stays active in the soil for many years.

You don’t believe it? Give it a try !

Des légumes dans le désert – Vegetables in the desert

Beaucoup de gens pensent qu’il est impossible de cultiver des légumes dans le désert. Je veux vous montrer une série de photos remarquables sur notre projet UNICEF dans le désert du Sahara, appelé “Jardins familiaux dans les camps des réfugiés Sahraouis“. Ces camps se trouvent au S.W. de l’Algérie (région de Tindouf). Grâce à l’utilisation du conditionneur de sol TerraCottem (, les réfugiés peuvent maintenant cultiver toutes sortes de légumes pour compléter la quantité de vitamines et d’éléments minéraux dans leur régime quotidien. Comme des images en disent beaucoup plus que mille mots, je veux vous présenter une série de photos prises en janvier 2007.

Many people think it is impossible to grow vegetables in the desert. I want to show you a lot of remarkable pictures on our UNICEF project in the Sahara desert, called “Family gardens in the refugee camps of the Sahraouis”. These camps are situated in S.W. Algeria (region of Tindouf). Thanks to the use of the soil conditioner TerraCottem ( the refugees can now grow all kinds of vegetables to complete the quantity of vitamins and mineral elements in their daily diet. As images say more than a thousand words, here I will present a series of pictures taken in January 2007.

Vue sur une des dairas dans la wilaya de Smara.

View on one of the dairas in the wilaya of Smara

Garden without TC 01
Un jardin familial sans application du conditionneur de sol TerraCottem (le sable pur du désert). Différents légumes ensemencés en octobre 2006. Plantes toujours petites malgré un arrosage quotidien avec une eau saumatre.

A family garden without application of the soil conditioner TerraCottem (pure desert sand). Different vegetables seeded in october 2006. Plants still small, although watered every day with brackish water.

Jardin de famille sans TC
Même après 3 mois les légumes ne sont pas encore consommables.

Even after 3 months the vegetables are not ready to be consumed.

Taleb’s garden

Le jardin de l’ingénieur Taleb BRAHIM, traité au TerraCottem (TC), arrosé par goutte-à-goutte tous les 3 jours au lieu de chaque jour. Betteraves rouges et carottes récoltées à partir de la 7me semaine.

The garden of engineer Taleb BRAHIM, treated with TerraCottem (TC), drip-irrigated every 3 days instead of every day. Red beetroots and carrots eaten from the 7th week off.

Janssens and carrot
Mr. Raymond JANSSENS, Représentant d’UNICEF ALGERIE, avec une des carottes magnifiques du jardin de Taleb BRAHIM (arrière-plan).

Mr. Raymond JANSSENS, Representative of UNICEF ALGERIA, with a magnificent carrot from the garden of Taleb BRAHIM (in the back).

Garden with TC
Voici un jardin familial traité au TerraCottem en octobre 2006. Arrosage seulement tous les 2 jours. Production remarquable. Légumes consommés à partir de 6 semaines après l’ensemencement. Quel magnifique jardin de légumes dans le Sahara !

Here is a family garden treated with TerraCottem in october 2006. It is watered only every 2 days. Remarkable production. Vegetables consumed from the 6th week off. What a splendid garden in the Sahara desert !

Jardin avec TC
Pouuriez-vous vous imaginer que ce beau jardin peut être réalisé au désert? Grâce au TerraCottem l’arrosage y est limitée à 50 % du volume normal et la production végétale est au moins doublée.

Can you imagine that this garden is created in the desert? Thanks to TerraCottem watering is limited to 50 % of the normal volume and plant production is at least the double.

Communicating international development research (id21): Rural livelihoods

Natural Resource Highlights” are published annually by id21, which is hosted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of the University of Sussex in Brighton, BN1 9RE (UK). It is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

id21 publishes these highlights on agriculture, conservation, fisheries, forestry, land, rural livelihoods and water. On the website you will find the full range of over 2000 research highlights.

I read the 2006 issues on all the above fields of interest and found very interesting contributions:


1. Understanding rural telephone use.
2. Overcoming rural-urban divides.
3. Improving rural road networks.
4. The Mekong region’s rural water market
5. Networks to maintain crop diversity.
6. Reducing indoor air pollution.

A number of useful websites are mentioned. These offer new possibilities for collecting information:

Continue reading “Communicating international development research (id21): Rural livelihoods”

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