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Building science, technology and innovation capacity in developing countries

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is contributing to a series of online training courses and workshops to build national capacity on science, technology and innovation (STI) in developing countries in order to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The training has been organized online amid the current COVID-19 pandemic and is being carried out in partnership with the UN Inter-agency Task Team (IATT) on STI for the SDGs, an operational arm of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) mandated under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to mobilize STI for the SDGs.

The three-part, agency-wide interactive webinar series, which has attracted over 50 government officials from 24 countries from Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eurasia, will conclude on December 3 with a session on innovation and entrepreneurship organized by UNIDO.

The final session will focus on how to provide practical and conceptual support for innovative entrepreneurship through policies that create business opportunities for start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) while driving productivity, job creation and economic growth.

The first two sessions dealt with existing approaches for the design and implementation of STI policies and examined case studies on how policies are being geared towards achieving the SDGs. They also discussed how to strengthen and adapt STI policies to deal with current COVID-19 pandemic and any future crisis.   

The IATT is currently composed of diverse entities, including among others UNCTAD, UNIDO, UNESCO, UNU MERIT, WIPO, UNDESA, UNEP, World Bank, ITU, UNESCWA, UNECA, UNECLAC, UNECE and UNESCAP. The IATT’s Work Stream 6 is responsible for capacity building on STI for the SDGs, designing and delivering training courses and workshops on STI policy that target policymakers and key STI managers from developing countries.

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77 million children have spent 18 months out of class

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The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the world is facing an education crisis due to the COVID pandemic, that has left nearly 77 million children shut out of the classroom for the past 18 months.  

This Thursday, the UN agency is closing down its social media channels for the next 18 hours to send one message to the world: #ReopenSchools for in-person learning as soon as possible. 

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is joining UNICEF, together with the World Bank, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Commission Humanitarian Aid operation, the LEGO Foundation and the WEF Global Shapers community of world youth.  

Right to education 

For UNICEF, the right to go to school is central to every child’s development, safety and well-being. Yet in too many countries, classrooms remain closed while social gatherings continue to take place in restaurants, salons and gyms. 

The agency believes “this generation of children and youth, cannot afford any more disruptions to their education.” 

New numbers from UNESCO, released this Thursday, show that schools are now fully open in 117 countries, with 539 million students back in class, ranging from pre-primary to secondary levels. 

This represents 35 per cent of the total student population across the world, compared to 16% who returned to school in September 2020, when schools were only open, or partially-open, in 94 countries. 

Around 117 million students, representing 7.5 per cent of the total, are still affected by complete school closures in 18 countries. The number of countries with partly open schools, has declined from 52 to 41 over the same period.  

In all countries that had prolonged full school closures, education was provided through a combination of online classes, printed modules, as well as tuition through TV and radio networks. 

Schools can reopen safely 

UNESCO and its Global Education Coalition partners have been advocating for the safe reopening of schools, urging full closures to be used as a measure of last resort. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, schools were completely closed for an average of 18 weeks (4.5 months) worldwide. If partial closures are accounted for, the average duration of closures represents 34 weeks (8.5 months) worldwide, or nearly a full academic year. 

For UNESCO, the past two academic years have resulted in learning losses and increased drop-out rates, impacting the most vulnerable students disproportionately.  

Schools in most countries have adopted some forms of sanitation protocol such as wearing masks, using hand sanitizers, improving ventilation and social distancing, which were also key to re-opening schools last year. 

Some countries have also introduced large scale testing as well as temporary classroom and school closures when the virus is detected.  

Vaccination key 

Rising vaccination rates among both general population and teaching staff, has also been a key factor in reopening schools. 

The vaccination of teachers has been prioritized in around 80 countries, allowing for the inoculation of some 42 million teachers. In a handful of countries, the vaccination of students aged 12 and over, is an important factor in determining the full re-opening of schools. 

Action to accelerate the recovery of learning losses remains an essential component of national COVID-19 education responses. For that, UNESCO says teachers and educators need adequate support and preparation. 

Connectivity and bridging the digital divide also remain key priorities in building the resilience of education systems and providing hybrid learning opportunities. 

For that reason, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank have partnered in an initiative called Mission: Recovering Education 2021, that supports governments in bringing all learners back to school, run programmes to help them catch up on lost learning, and prepare teachers to address learning losses and incorporate new digital technology.

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Rising demand for agricultural products adds to competing pressures on tropical forest landscapes

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Annual consumption of food and agriculture products rose by 48% between 2001 and 2018 – more than twice the rate of increase in human population – as reported in a new analysis published by the Tropical Forest Alliance at the World Economic Forum entitled Forests, food systems and livelihoods: Trends, forecasts and solutions to reframe approaches to protecting forests.

The report, which tracks the relationship between the rising demand for food and agricultural products and deforestation, paints a picture of increasing competing demands on tropical forest landscapes. Since 2001, 160 million people have been lifted out of poverty and undernourishment increasing the per capita food consumption, particularly protein which has risen 45% since 2000.

In producer countries, these trends are often linked to economic development and rural livelihoods that creates a set of complex trade-offs for decision makers. For example, soybeans are now the most valuable export product for Brazil, and around 16.3 million people (12% of the total workforce) are employed in the palm oil industry in Indonesia.

The report also highlights the significant loss of primary forests, which are rich stores of carbon and biodiversity. An area exceeding 60 million hectares of primary tropical forests have been lost since 2002 – almost the size of France. The loss was 12% higher in 2020 than the previous year, despite all the efforts by governments, businesses and civil society. More than 80% of this deforestation happened in landscapes where agriculture is the dominant driver and much of this is linked to the production of globally traded commodities including soy, palm oil, cattle, cocoa, coffee and wood pulp.

In the face of this reality, the report concludes that those working to reverse deforestation need to deploy systemic solutions that take into account the multiple competing demands on these landscapes. For example, incentives can be provided for farmers to conserve more while producing food, with potential sources coming from both carbon finance and domestic finance for rural credit. More effort needs to be applied to boost productivity sustainably, particularly for smallholder farmers in the face of greater climatic stress. Improved technical assistance and new plant material to help increase yields, as well as support with the diversification of income streams, are essential.

Mr Samuel Abu Jinapor, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Ghana says: “The time for action is now. We will pursue progressive policies with the overarching view to restoring the forest cover of Ghana, thereby contributing to the global effort against climate change.”

Justin Adams, Executive Director, Tropical Forest Alliance, says: “No single policy or solution can resolve this. Commodity-driven deforestation must not be treated in isolation – either as a purely environmental issue or a supply-chain problem. Keeping forests standing is linked directly to sustaining rural livelihoods, ensuring food security for a growing global population and supporting economic development. Crucially, the community of action working on this issue must broaden beyond those engaged at the forest frontier and environmental issues to include actors in the food system more broadly, such as farmers, local communities, local businesses and local governments.”

There is some evidence that private sector supply-chain strategies are helping to reduce deforestation. For example, Nestlé has assessed that 90% of key ingredients – including palm oil, sugar, soy and meat – are deforestation-free as of last year, and has committed to 100% deforestation-free products by 2025. Magdi Batato, the Executive Vice President and Head of Operations of Nestlé says: “A forest positive future is possible if the private sector collectively moves its focus on achieving a positive impact in the critical landscapes that underpin our food systems, and if we work hand-in-hand with farmers and local communities, and governments to form wider solutions across local, regional and global levels. The benefits are numerous: more resilient communities and livelihoods, more sustainable food systems, and a healthier planet.”

While many companies are committing to ambitious efforts in their own supply chains, it is also critical that this is done in conjunction with a broader sector-wide transformation to reduce net deforestation. Landscape-scale or jurisdictional approaches, which promote sustainable practices by rooting them in local governance systems, offer a practical way for both companies and governments to collaborate.

Christine Montenegro McGrath, Vice President and Chief Global Impact and Sustainability, Mondelēz International and Co-Chair, Consumer Goods Forum Forest Positive Coalition of Action says: “Important shifts are taking place – and as we look ahead to the UN Food Systems Summit and COP26 this year – we need to integrate food production as a critical part of the collective action required to meet both the Paris Agreement and goals on biodiversity. This report shows that landscape-scale initiatives provide a crucial piece of that puzzle for businesses who are on the journey to becoming forest-positive.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last month provided alarming evidence about the irreversible changes to the climate including for forests, and has also established that climate change is already having an adverse impact on food security and terrestrial ecosystems, with the tropics among the most vulnerable regions in terms of crop yields. This report predicts a shrinking agricultural labour force, posing even further risks for agricultural production.

President of the World Economic Forum Borge Brende says: “This combination of risks from climate change and demographic shifts suggests that the rural development models that have underpinned the expansion of tropical agriculture in the first two decades of the century are coming under increasing pressure from several angles. This underpins the need for a multistakeholder approach to find systemic solutions exemplified by the work of the Tropical Forest Alliance and the FACT Dialogue that will be presenting its findings at COP26 in Glasgow.”

Finally, the report points to the need to tackle data gaps that can enhance transparency in supply chains. There have been a number of promising innovations in recent years in improving transparency and data quality, especially the use of satellite imagery. However, despite this progress, gaps remain, including concession boundary maps, trade and export data, distinguishing between tree cover loss and deforestation, spatial data on crop production, incorporating information on time lags (between deforestation and associated production) and improving the rigour by which drivers of deforestation are understood.

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Better Targeting of Social Protection Programs can Significantly Reduce Poverty in Bangladesh

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Social Protection Programs remain central to Bangladesh’s sustainable development policy and are progressively benefitting the poorer households. By improving targeting of the social protection programs, the country can further reduce poverty. Reallocating existing transfers to the poorest could reduce poverty from 36 percent to 12 percent, says a new World Bank report launched today.

The report titled ‘Bangladesh Social Protection Public Expenditure Review’ reflects on Bangladesh’s continued investment towards social protection and how it can improve on its existing framework including planning, designing, programming, and delivery of the various social protection programs and projects.

The report finds that the social protection programs are mostly focused in rural areas. But, with almost 1 in 5 of the urban population living in poverty, and half of the households at the risk of falling into poverty, there is a need for rebalancing geographic allocations between rural and urban areas. About 11 percent of people in urban areas are covered by social protection whereas 19 percent of urban population is poor. The coverage in rural areas is higher than the poverty rate, with programs reaching 36 percent of people, while 26 percent live in poverty. Using a social registry, such as the National Household Database can improve targeting of both programs and households at a reduced cost. 

“Over the last decades, Bangladesh expanded its coverage of social protection programs that now reach three in every 10 households in the country,” said Dandan Chen, World Bank Operations Manager for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the need for a more robust, efficient, and adaptive social protection system. Going forward, well-targeted and less fragmented social protection programs that consider the demographic change, unplanned urbanization, labor market vulnerability, and frequent shocks will help the country continue with its success of poverty reduction.”

In FY 20, Bangladesh spent about 2.6 percent of GDP in social protection, which is in line with countries with similar income levels. However, some risk groups remain underserved, in particular there are gaps in programing for early years and for the economic inclusion of poor and vulnerable youth and adults. For example, in every eight poor persons, one is a young child. Yet, the poor young children receive only 1.6 percent of social protection expenditures. Spending will be more effective if the allocations are aligned with the share of the poor in different categories, and with the different functions played by programs.

“Investing in early childhood helps a child grow healthier and be more productive in adult life and thus break the cycle of poverty across generations,” said Aline Coudouel, World Bank Lead Economist and a co-author of the report. “The country has taken innovative programs, reflecting the life-cycle approach. As patterns of risk change in different phases of life, the life-cycle approach needs to encompass support from pregnant mothers to old age, persons with disabilities, as well as from households facing shocks to those in chronic poverty.”

To boost the quality and efficiency of service delivery, Government to Person (G2P) and mobile financial services should be scaled up. It takes about two months to transfer the funds from treasury to the beneficiary. The G2P scheme can cut processing time to 10 days.

This also needs to be paired with increased allocations for staffing, capacity-building training including digital literacy, and improved equipment, which will facilitate enhanced implementation of programs at the local level.

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