ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

26 June 2002


AgBioIndia Mailing List
June 27, 2002

Subject: World Bank's rural development strategy

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

The World Bank's draft Rural Development Strategy will soon come up for review by the Bank's Board of Executive Directors (on July 9, 2002). This document is very important because it lays out the World Bank's plans for rural development that will affect millions of rural poor people around the world.

There are many fundamental problems with the strategy, including its basic assumptions about rural development, its choice of partners, implementation plan, and selection of technologies. The strategy is misguided in its approach and is more likely to make the problem of rural poverty worse.

The attached letter urges World Bank Executive Directors to reject the draft strategy based on the following points:

1. Wrong approach: The strategy relies on trade liberalization and privatization as the solutions to rural poverty. It seeks to shift small farmers to the export-oriented commercial farm sector, acknowledging that struggling "inefficient" farmers may have to abandon their farms. The strategy disregards farmers' rights to grow food safely, to choose their livelihood, to food security and food sovereignty.

2. Wrong partners: The Bank proposes increased involvement of the private sector in nearly all aspects of rural development, showing a preference for large transnational corporations. The strategy emphasizes protecting corporate investments, but does not speak of protecting farmers' and workers' rights.

3. Wrong technologies: The strategy emphasizes private sector investment in science and "new" technologies to increase productivity, instead of traditional/indigenous knowledge and farmer's own scientific capacity.

4. Biotechnology: The strategy promotes agricultural biotechnology which likely includes the use of transgenic crops. It ignores the tens of thousands of farmers around the world who have denounced genetic engineering because of its ecological consequences, food safety issues, and associated economic risks.

5. Pesticides: The strategy does not affirm the Bank's commitment to reducing reliance on pesticides, which is a central part of the Bank's safeguard policy on pest management, OP 4.09.

6. Water: The strategy supports water pricing and private water user associations, which tend to limit the participation of the poor and result in even less access to water.

7. Land reform: The strategy promotes "market-assisted" land reform, over the protests of farmers' organizations and landless peasants around the world who have denounced the Bank's land policy and call for genuine land reform instead.

We are urging the Bank to reject the Strategy and revise it to address the issues discussed above and those brought up by other civil society groups. We also demand that the Bank publicly disclose the comments it receives and how they are addressed.

It is very important that the Executive Directors realize there is a wide coalition of groups opposed to the draft Rural Strategy, so we encourage you to sign on to the following letter (instructions below).

In solidarity,
Marcia Ishii-Eiteman

To SIGN ONTO the attached letter to World Bank executive directors, provide your

Please send your response as soon as possible, but NO LATER THANTUESDAY, JULY 2 to Norm Kaethler at <>.

Other civil society/NGO critiques of the RDS can be found on our website:

For information about how to send your own comments directly to the WB,

July 8, 2002

[Executive Director]
World Bank
1818 H Street
Washington DC 20433

Dear [Mr./Ms. Executive Director],

We are writing to you today to express our grave concern with the World Bank's draft Rural Development Strategy (RDS).

The draft Rural Development Strategy affirms the World Bank's fundamental commitment to poverty reduction. This goal and the emphasis on locally owned participatory processes and attunement to national and regional priorities are laudable.

However, the document fails to provide an accurate analysis of both the root causes of poverty and the crippling effects of the Bank's liberalization and privatization policies on the rural poor. As a result, the Bank's proposed implementation plan, approach, choice of development partners and selection of technologies are misguided and likely to exacerbate rather than relieve rural impoverishment and environmental devastation. We therefore urge you to reject the draft Rural Development Strategy, and call for major revisions to address the following points.


The strategy bases its entire analysis and plan on the assumption that trade liberalization and privatization can and will reduce poverty. The results of SAPRIN have proven otherwise. Structural adjustment, privatization and unregulated global markets have had devastating consequences for the world's poor. While conceding that "the poor are more affected by market failures," the World Bank strategy's focus remains one of using market mechanisms to shift" subsistence-oriented" and "small market-oriented" farmers into the commercial farm sector. Yet reliance on global commodity markets is risky, and when export crop prices drop, poor farmers suffer terribly (as evidenced by the desperate plight of small coffee producers today). Furthermore, the focus on export cash crops (with the exception of speciality organic markets) almost invariably leads to greater dependence on harmful chemical inputs and threatens human health, biodiversity and soil, water and air quality.

Commercialization of agriculture leads to farm consolidation, forcing small farmers to sell out to larger interests and benefiting agribusinesses with the capital to purchase expensive inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and now even water (formerly a public good, but under policies promoted by the World Bank, increasingly privatized). The document offers no concrete or credible plan for protecting poor farmers from market failures and in fact baldly suggests that if struggling farmers cannot compete successfully in the commercial sector, they should abandon their livelihood and culture, and seek off-farm employment instead. This approach is unconscionable and reflects a reprehensible disregard for farmers' rights: the right to grow safe and nutritious food, the right to a livelihood of their own choosing, and the right to food security for their communities and food sovereignty for their countries.

The Bank proposes increased involvement of the private sector in virtually all aspects of rural development, including research in science and technology, agricultural extension, and access to global markets for new exports. Lip service is given to the participation of local interests and civil society, but the strategy ignores how this goal can and should be implemented. While the private sector can contribute to sustainable development (particularly by the action of locally owned small and medium sized enterprises), the strategy indicates a preference for large transnational corporations with no proven ability to reduce poverty and with long track records of environmental and human rights abuses. The strategy asserts that private sector investments must be protected, but makes no mention of how the excesses of transnational corporations will be curbed, or the livelihoods and rights of the poor protected. The strategy appears more committed to enhancing the profits of corporations than improving the well being of the poor.

The strategy emphasizes increasing investment in science and technology in order to increase productivity. But whose technology? Science by and for farmers has much to offer, but the strategy ignores traditional knowledge and farmers' capacity, and instead prioritizes private investment in "new" (and expensive) technologies. Moreover, technology alone is never the answer, since the problems of rural poverty have much more to do with power and access to productive resources: land, water, seeds, forests, fisheries, etc. A narrow focus on yield increases is likely to repeat the problems of the past Green Revolution which exacerbated the income gap between wealthy and poor farmers, polluted the land with chemicals and poisoned thousands of farmers.

The World Bank strategy also promotes agricultural biotechnology in glowing terms, but fails to discuss the Bank's position on genetic engineering in a transparent manner. Given the Bank's close partnerships with biotech companies, it is likely that the strategy's use of the term "agricultural biotechnology" includes transgenic crops. In fact, the WB has already approved US$50 million in project loans for agricultural biotechnology, including transgenic crops such as Bt rice, Bt cotton and sweet potato.3 Yet tens of thousands of farmers around the world have fiercely denounced genetic engineering (GE), arguing that it can threaten biodiversity, cause genetic contamination of conventional and organic crops as well as indigenous landraces, threaten the safety of the food supply and pose serious risk of allergenicity to humans. Many rural communities are rejecting transgenic crops because their use frequently denies farmers' cultural right to save, breed and exchange seed, while giving control of their food production to transnational corporations that ultimately have no interest in their well being.

Furthermore, farmers in Southern countries who export to markets in Europe, Japan and Korea, could find themselves at a grave disadvantage if they start planting transgenic crops. These farmers would be exposed to greater financial risk and increased vulnerability upon adoption of such technologies, since a growing number of countries are unwilling to import GE products, due to consumer rejection of genetically engineered foods.4

While it does recognize the importance of ecologically based pest management and reducing pesticide use, the strategy falls short of affirming the Bank's commitment to reducing reliance on pesticides, a central requirement of the Bank's safeguard policy on pest management, OP 4.09. The strategy's occasional reference to promoting organic agriculture and organic certification is a positive step, but is dwarfed beside the strategy's overwhelming emphasis on industrialized agriculture, the "precision use" of "modern inputs" and the cultivation of high value export crops, generally grown with large amounts of pesticides.

The strategy supports the pricing of water and establishment of private water user associations. However, the public has limited opportunities for participation in private sector water delivery schemes and the poor have even less access to water under these schemes.

The World Bank's conclusion that experiments with market-assisted land reform "show much promise" is contested by numerous farmers' organizations, such as members of La Via Campesina, FIAN and the Landless Peasant's Movement (MST) in Brazil.

Much of the strategy's weakness has to do with a flawed process of consultation. While the Bank did conduct a number of regional consultations in 2001, questions continue to be raised regarding the extent of participation by the world's poor in those consultations. But the larger problem is that after these consultations, during development of the overarching or "corporate" strategy on rural development, the WB shut its doors and refused to allow civil society to see drafts until just 10 weeks ago. Asking for ideas at the start of the consultation cannot substitute for seeking feedback from stakeholders who should have been informed all along of the actual content of the emerging draft. Since 2001, the Rural Development Department (RDV) either ignored NGO requests to review and comment on the strategy, refused us outright, or exaggerated the true extent of stakeholder participation. While the Board's decision to delay its review of the strategy from April to July 2002 was a good one, the secrecy, unresponsiveness and misinformation provided by RDV during the previous year has undermined public trust.

A sound rural development strategy should start with an accurate assessment of the social and political roots of poverty. It should provide an effective plan of action to enable countries to move away from corporate-controlled agriculture and towards locally owned regenerative agriculture leading toward environmentally sustainable methods such as organic farming. A revised strategy must uphold workers' and farmers' rights to produce safe and nutritious food for themselves and their communities and to retain decision-making control over their choice of livelihood and methods of agriculture. It should uphold the right to food security and food sovereignty. The strategy should also lay out a plan for regulating the private sector, particularly transnational corporations, in order to prevent violation of human and environmental rights.

A revised strategy should emphasize proven low-cost, low-risk technologies (such as ecologically based IPM and low external input sustainable farming) rather than inadequately tested, risky technologies such as genetic engineering. Appropriate partners include peasant and producer organizations, NGOs, international institutions with proven capacity to empower farmers and carefully selected private sector entities, such as producers of biological pest control agents, food and commodity producers, processors and retailers with an interest in reducing pesticide residues. In addition to organic certification, the strategy should promote Fair Trade certification.

The Bank has an opportunity to show leadership in its approach to rural development, yet its capacity to prioritize the right issues in the right ways will be severely undermined if the Strategy fails to reflect the needs and concerns of the rural poor. We therefore ask you to take the following steps to ensure that a revised draft strategy addresses civil society concerns:

1. Require the World Bank to revise the Strategy to address the critical issues discussed above in ways that reflect the concerns put forth here and in civil society comments; and
2. Require public disclosure of the nature of comments received and explanations as to whether and how they were (or were not) addressed.

We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and look forward to your response.

Sincerely yours,

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PhD
Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)
49 Powell Street, Suite #500
San Francisco CA 94102

Cc: James Wolfensohn, Shengman Zhang, Kevin Cleaver


1 World Bank Technical Briefing from the Vice President and Secretary. Biotechnology for Poverty Alleviation and Economic Growth: challenges and options for the World Bank. January 7, 2002.

2 For example, the European Union has rejected Chinese soy sauce because it was made with US soybeans considered likely to be transgenic. Similarly, Namibia's beef exports to Europe are at risk since Namibian cattle are fed South African maize which cannot be guaranteed to be free of transgenic material. (Allan Seccombe. "S. Africa maize threatens Namibia beef exports." Reuters, Feburary 17, 2000.)

3 "Precision use of inputs" is the pesticide industry's new term for what is essentially calendar spraying, i.e. applying pesticides routinely, according to growth stage of the plant, without regard for the actual ecological conditions existing in a field. It is inconsistent with an ecologically based IPM approach.

4 Throughout summer and fall 2001, RDV staff ignored PANNA's requests to see the draft corporate strategy. In November 2001, former RDV Director, Bob Thompson, refused requests by PANNA and other NGOs to see the August 2001 draft, claiming that only "a very limited body of external reviewers" had been allowed under CODE regulations to see it. The strategy's primary author, Csaba Csaki, stated that the Bank conducted nine regional consultations with full stakeholder participation, but later admitted that the consultations said to have taken place in Belgium and Tokyo were, in fact, meetings with donor agencies and included no stakeholders at all.

5. See civil society comments to the World Bank posted on PANNA's Web


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