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Agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean Poised for Transformational Changes

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As agriculture and food systems across Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) try to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, policy makers must act to unleash the sector’s vast potential to drive sustainable and inclusive growth for decades to come, according to a new World Bank report.

The agricultural sector in LAC plays a vital role in producing food and ecosystem services that benefit not only the region but the entire planet. Today, millions of farmers and livestock keepers throughout the region struggle to overcome the impacts of a global health crisis, an economic slowdown, unprecedented weather shocks, and a crippling migrant crisis. Reforms are needed for the sector to play an even more important role in supporting the region’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, the elimination of extreme poverty and the promotion of shared prosperity, according to Future Foodscapes: Re-imagining Agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The pandemic crisis leads us to rethink the future of Latin America” said World Bank Vice President for the Latin America and the Caribbean Region Carlos Felipe Jaramillo. “We need an agriculture sector that can satisfy the growing food needs of the region and the world at large while avoiding further damage to our environment. With better policies and new technologies, the region’s agri-food systems can contribute more to growth, reducing poverty and food and nutrition security.” 

Agriculture is important for the region’s economies, accounting for 5-18 percent of GDP in 20 countries in LAC, and an even larger share when broader contributions across food systems are considered. Yet despite its record of success, agriculture is underperforming. Impressive achievements reflected in rising production and increasing net exports have come at the expense of significant environmental and health costs. Protecting the region’s environmental wealth and paying attention to food quality and safety, as well as nutrition security are particularly important.

“Latin America and the Caribbean is the world’s breadbasket and lungs,” said Michael Morris, World Bank Lead Agriculture Economist and leader of the team that authored the report. “But the challenge is to ensure it continues to play those roles. Policy makers will need to focus on reducing market inefficiencies, building human and institutional capacity, readying for catastrophic risks and seizing emerging opportunities, while at the same time considering game-changing reforms such as making agri-food systems carbon neutral.”

The report highlights 20 proposed actions that could help unlock the vast potential of the region’s agriculture and food systems. Some of these actions merit priority attention because they are guaranteed to pay off. Examples of ‘no regrets’ actions include measures aimed at modernizing agri-logistics infrastructure (including information and communication technology), improving the skills of agriculture and food system workers, making agriculture and food systems climate smart and deepening rural financial markets. Other proposed actions are also imperative to mitigate against risks and build resilience in the face of multiple threats ranging from climate change, demographic pressures, zoonotic diseases, and other disasters and negative disruptors.

A second group of proposed actions are more strategic in nature and offer a range of options that policy makers can use to address the diverse challenges facing agriculture and food systems throughout the region. As the pace of technological change accelerates, policy reforms and supporting investments can position the region’s food producers, processors, and distributors to seize emerging opportunities. Examples include climate-smart disruptive technologies or supporting the development of biofortified foods and nutraceuticals. At an even higher level of ambition, ‘game changer’ actions could have the potential to fundamentally transform the region’s agriculture and food systems, for example by decoupling all agricultural production support from the production of specific goods, or combatting climate change by committing to full carbon neutrality.

The actions proposed in the report can help to ensure the long-term viability of food production capacity and the sustainability of the natural environment on which agriculture and all life depend. Current practices will need to be replaced with better models that increase production, strengthen ecosystem services, and enhance climate resilience in an inclusive way. If policy makers in LAC can rise to the challenge, the region’s agriculture and food systems will have a decisive influence on the fortunes not only of the region, but of the entire planet. The future of these systems is far too important to be left to chance.

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World Economic Forum Annual Meeting rescheduled to 22-26 May

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The World Economic Forum is pleased to announce that it will hold its Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, from Sunday 22 to Thursday 26 May. Under the theme, Working Together, Restoring Trust, the Annual Meeting 2022 will be the first global in-person leadership event since the start of the pandemic.

The Annual Meeting 2022, returning to Davos-Klosters after a two-year hiatus, will offer world leaders an opportunity to take stock of the state of the world and shape partnerships and policies for the crucial period ahead.

Topics on the agenda will include the pandemic recovery, tackling climate change, building a better future for work, accelerating stakeholder capitalism, and harnessing the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, said: “After all the virtual meetings taking place in the last two years, leaders from politics, business and civil society have to convene finally in person again. We need to establish the atmosphere of trust that is truly needed to accelerate collaborative action and to address the multiple challenges we face.”

The World Economic Forum will continue to communicate closely with the Swiss government on the public health situation in Switzerland. The meeting will take place as long as all necessary conditions are in place to guarantee the health and safety of its participants and the host community.

During the Davos Agenda 2022, heads of state and government and international organizations shared their priorities for a challenging year ahead. They joined leaders from business and civil society and spoke on the global economic outlook, inequality, healthy futures, climate and resilience.

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Latin America Leaders See Opportunities for Economic and Social Growth in 2022

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Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Latin American leaders, speaking on the third day of the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos Agenda 2022, expressed optimism for the region’s economic outlook in the coming year.

Latin America posted a solid economic recovery in 2021 and will most likely post moderate growth in 2022, as many countries continue to implement fiscal, social and health policies for a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. The region was one of the hardest-hit by COVID-19 but has turned things around with successful ongoing vaccination programmes.

Ivan Duque, President of Colombia, said: “Colombia closed 2021 with positive results”, noting his country’s positive economic growth and high percentage of vaccination rates. He said the goal for 2022 is to maintain growth while, at the same time, closing the social inequality gap.

Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica, said 85% of his country’s population had received a second COVID shot and that the process of vaccinating children was under way. “The main thing for Costa Rica is our vaccination drive. This is the only way to exit the health crisis,” he said.

Other countries in the region, including Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru, also highlighted the success of their vaccination campaigns. As they continue to recover from the pandemic, the leaders said they were focused on rebuilding their economies with a particular focus on the labour market, trade, attracting foreign investment and sustainable energy.

Alejandro Giammattei, President of Guatemala, said: “The challenge we have now is not only to promote growth but to turn growth into something sustainable. We need to improve the labour market and create more jobs. This will lead to better prosperity, health and education.” Generating new opportunities and ensuring economic benefits would reach all parts of society which, he pointed out, would also curb migration. “The only thing that stops a person is a wall of prosperity,” he said.

Guillermo Lasso, President of the Republic of Ecuador, highlighted the need for governments to commit to ethics and principles. “We need economic and inclusive growth within the rule of law and programmes that promote new opportunities. It is not just about economic growth but about quality of life and social cohesion.”

José Pedro Castillo Terrones, President of the Republic of Peru, said his priority was economic reforms, noting that his government has invested $10 billion in strategic areas such as education, health and transport, and recently signed an infrastructure bill that will lead to more jobs. “We also want to invest in energy and natural gas, especially in transportation, so the entire country is connected,” he added.

The leaders agreed that connecting the region is key to Latin America’s future outlook. Several of the countries, including Ecuador and Guatemala, have signed new trade agreements with Mexico, indicating that it will open up free trade in the Pacific and their economies to foreign investment. “Integration is important,” President Giammattei said. “It reflects tighter and more interaction that enables us to improve the economic situation.”

The environment is another area that has seen increased regional cooperation. Ecuador recently signed a decree to expand a new marine reserve and protect an area north of the Galapagos Islands. The expanded area will eventually link the Galapagos with Panama’s Coiba islands, Colombia’s Malpelo and Costa Rica’s Coco islands. “When it comes to the environment, we need to have better integration, especially regarding biodiversity and climate change,” President Alvarado said.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, President, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), stressed the importance of public-private partnerships in helping to achieve social and environmental goals. Regional integration mechanisms, such as the IDB, can provide funds to help Latin American countries build their post-pandemic recovery as well as back priorities ranging from healthcare and digitalization to climate change action, supply chains and education.

“The pandemic created unprecedented challenges, but it also opened historic opportunities for Latin America, especially in areas including digitalization, supply chains, SMEs, gender equality and climate action, and we are proud to be there, focused on helping countries seize those opportunities,” he said.

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India: West Bengal Gets $125 Million to Help Citizens Access Social Protection Services

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The World Bank’s Executive Board of Directors today approved a $125 million loan to the Government of West Bengal to support the state’s efforts to help poor and vulnerable groups access social protection services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to focus on building capabilities of state governments to deliver inclusive and equitable social protection in times of crisis. India’s eastern state of West Bengal runs more than 400 programs that provide social assistance, care services, and jobs. Most of these services are offered through an umbrella platform called Jai Bangla. The West Bengal Building State Capability for Inclusive Social Protection Operation will support these interventions at the state level, with particular focus on vulnerable groups such as women, tribal and scheduled caste households and the elderly, as well as households in the state’s disaster-prone coastal regions.

A recent survey found that while food and in-kind transfers reach most poor and vulnerable households in West Bengal, the coverage of cash transfers is weak. Access to social pensions by elderly, widows and disabled persons, in particular, is also weak due to cumbersome application processes and lack of automated systems for application and eligibility verification.

Over the next four years, the operation will help strengthen the state’s capability to expand coverage and access to social assistance and to deliver cash transfers for the poor and vulnerable through a consolidated social registry.

“With its fast-growing urban population and pockets of urban poor, West Bengal has recognized the need to move from a fragmented, scheme-based social protection system to providing an integrated basket of social protection benefits and services to its most vulnerable citizens,” said Junaid Ahmad, the World Bank’s Country Director in India. “The project will support and strengthen the state’s capability in this area to ensure that it can deliver social protection services — both cash and in-kind — to all its vulnerable citizens.”  

West Bengal faces challenges related to manual data entry, inconsistent beneficiary data across departments, and lack of data storage and data exchange protocols. The operation will help digitize the state’s unified delivery system, the Jai Bangla platform, to help consolidate disparate social assistance programs and speed the delivery of social pensions to vulnerable and poor households.  

The project will also support the creation of a tele-consultation network for social care services, complemented by a cadre of case management workers who can help households with advice on eldercare and links to health services and facilities.

It will also create an institutional platform to improve coordination and effectiveness of government interventions to address the state’s low participation of women in the labor force.

“Lack of coordination among departments leads to duplication of efforts in service delivery. The project will assist in overall system improvements, helping to significantly improve the capacity of the state government to identify beneficiaries faster, track expenditures, and plan and monitor benefit delivery for the vulnerable,” said Shrayana Bhattacharya, Qaiser M. Khan and Ambrish Shahi, World Bank’s task team leaders for the project.

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