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World Bank Programs Target Climate Change, Food Production


Scientists say global warming is expected to affect food production and economic growth in Africa and the developing world.It’s caused in part by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and leads to a loss of food crops because of droughts and flooding, which are increasing in number and severity.

Adding to that, forests, which absorb carbon dioxide, are being cleared for wood for cooking or to fuel charcoal-powered electricity plants.They’re also being stripped to replace depleted land for farming.

Shanta Devarajan, the bank’s chief economist for Africa, says the World Bank is working to boost food production in Africa and curb the effects of climate change.

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Joining it in an effort called The Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food Security is a grouping of the top world economies, the G20. Devarajan says the effort is expected to build on World Bank projects that have helped some African countries increase their agricultural productivity by up to three percent per year.

"We have programs improving infrastructure," says Devarajan, "so farmers can get food to market in Burkina and Tanzania. Another example would be Malawi, [where there’s a] program to provide weather insurance to farmers who are highly susceptible to rainfall so they get compensated when there is bad rain…and they pay into the program when there are good rains."

Focus on global warming

The bank is working to help countries adapt to climate change with a number of projects that focus on improving soil fertility and protecting forests. He says African countries like Chad, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo could earn money by preserving their forests—that is, by not cutting down trees. Ecologists say forests are carbon “sinks” -- areas that can slow climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. Under a current proposal to control emissions, industrialized countries can avoid penalties for their own high levels of pollution by financially supporting efforts to limit deforestation in developing countries.

The World Bank also encourages governments to end counter-productive policies like subsidies for water-intensive crops.And he says there’s a renewed emphasis on using hydropower rather than coal to produce electricity, a strategy already in place in Ethiopia.

"[Ethiopia] is following a clean energy strategy by relying almost exclusively on hydropower.It replaces the use of bio-energy like cutting down trees. But if you can provide electricity to these homes, they will cut down fewer trees.Hydropower, [also] enables them to manage some of these water resources better.

It is a project [under] construction, but when it comes into play it will connect Kenya with Ethiopia on a Nile tributary [which] will have the benefit of sharing water resources to minimize risk.If there is a drought in Kenya, then water can flow into Kenya, or if there is a drought in Ethiopia, it can flow the other way.

Bank policies questioned

The bank recently announced it is spending more than three billion dollars to promote renewable energy like hydro and solar power. But some NGOs have criticized the institution for doubling the amount it spends on projects using coal and other fossil fuels.

Deverajan says the intent of the bank is misunderstood.

"The important point is that we use coal only when there is no other option left to solve an emergency situation," he said. "In Botswana, unless they build a [coal-fired power station in the town of ] Morupule, the lights will literally go off, because Botswana has been told by [neighboring] South Africa that it will no longer export electricity to them because [South Africa has] an energy shortage of [its] own. So Botswana does not have time to develop non-renewable resources for energy in the time frame [before] the lights go out."

South Africa, he says, is already using advanced technologies to reduce the amount of pollution coming from power plants that use coal.

The World Bank estimates that up to $75 billion dollars will be needed to help developing countries adapt to climate change.Some donors have been reluctant to increase funding to the bank.But Devarajan says they should realize that aid has become more efficient in Africa over the past decades, thanks to fiscal reforms and improved transparency.

And aid saves lives.Devarajan says in industrialized countries, the recession may lead to temporary job losses. But economic decline in developing countries can lead to the death of children from disease and malnutrition.He says that’s as a permanent a shock as you can get.

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