What Agenda Now for Agriculture?

A response to the World Development Report 2008

Published: 19 October 2007

After two decades of indefensible neglect, agriculture is back on the agenda. The World Bank’s publication of the ‘World Development Report 2008: Agriculture For Development’ (hereafter WDR), the first WDR on agriculture since 1982, reflects this renewed interest in the sector’s potential to reduce rural poverty and inequality. The context is now vastly changed: as the Report outlines, agriculture faces new challenges, from natural resource degradation, and climate change to trade and market liberalization, the rise of powerful new private actors and the development of new technologies.

So what is the agenda now for agriculture? This Briefing Note argues that the broad messages of the WDR 2008 are welcome. However, to tackle rural poverty effectively in this new context, policies for rural development will need to change, along with the conception of how different institutions will deliver those policies. In emphasising efficiency gains, the WDR fails both to grapple with new relations of power in the global marketplace and to ensure that equity (including gender equity) remains a core goal for policy-makers.