World Development Report must galvanize greater international support for agriculture, says Oxfam

Published: 19 October 2007

Today’s new World Development Report must galvanize a strong response from governments and institutions to correct many years of neglect of the millions of poor people who depend on agriculture, says international agency Oxfam.Oxfam welcomes the World Bank’s report in highlighting the vital contribution that agriculture can make to reduce global poverty. Donors and governments have until recently turned their backs on this vital sector, with overall global aid to agriculture falling by two thirds, from $11.5bn in 1987 to $3.9bn in 2005, despite the millions of poor people still living in rural areas. World Bank lending to agriculture amounted to $1.75bn in 2006, just 7% of total bank lending compared with more than 30 per cent when the last agriculture report was published in 1982. The world’s richest countries – France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US – all provide less aid to agriculture today than they have in the past. “There are signs that the rich world is at last rediscovering the huge poverty-fighting potential of agriculture,” said Gawain Kripke of Oxfam International. “Three-quarters of all poor people in developing countries live in rural areas and women make up the vast majority. Women produce more than half of all the food grown worldwide, yet own only two per cent of all land and get only one per cent of lending to agriculture. Oxfam warns that there is also a danger of past mistakes being repeated. “Spending is only a part of the battle,” said Kripke. “The World Bank has long insisted that as a condition of receiving its aid, poor countries have to liberalize their agricultural sectors before they receive its money. This has left millions of poor farmers without assistance to face markets that are very distorted in favor of rich country exporters. International trade rules are rigged in favor of rich countries preventing developing countries from reaping the economic growth that agriculture offers. “The Bank must learn, and not repeat mistakes from its last agricultural report 25 years ago. Trade liberalization by itself does not help the poor. Rapid liberalization can undermine growth and compound inequality. Moreover rich countries have yet to reform their own agricultural policies and are still dumping on the world markets. Forcing developing countries to liberalize in the face of this would be a continuing disaster.” There is now substantial evidence that liberalizing at the wrong time can hurt development. In Peru smallholder farmers growing quinoa, beans and potatoes were unable to compete against cheap wheat and rice imports following market opening, while the lowering of rice tariffs in Honduras meant cheaper prices for importers but consumers were worse off as price cuts were not passed on. “It is a staggering indictment that the rich world has treated this vast and vital sector with such disdain for so long. There’s reason to be optimistic that’s finally changing but at the moment those changes are not enough nor fast enough,” said Kripke. The Bank’s report does not consider the quality of the jobs it says can be created from rural labor markets, nor the impact on women workers. It also fails to explain adequately how agri-businesses should be better regulated and how poor farmers can avoid being exploited within market chains that are increasingly dominated by big business. The state must take a greater role in safeguarding the interests of small farmers and agricultural laborers. 

Notes to Editors

1. Read Oxfam's new Briefing Note: What agenda now for agriculture? A response to the World Development Report 20082.   OECD aid to agriculture 1980-2005·    Japan spent $2.4bn on agricultural aid at its height in 1996, falling to a low of $539m in 2004, and up to $1bn in 2005·    US spent $1.1bn at its height in 1980, falling to a low of $199m in 2003, and up to $644m in 2005·    UK spent $244m at its height in 1990, falling to a low of $121m in 2001, and up to $161m in 2005·    France spent $642m at its height in 1988, falling to a low of $127m in 2005·    Germany spent $588m at its height in 1996, falling to a low of $136m in 2000, and up to $211m in 2005

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Tricia O''Rourke, Oxfam Media Officer
Oxfam International
Tel: +44 (0) 1865 339157
Mob: +44 (0) 7989 965359