In a new report, the World Bank says agriculture is essential to reducing poverty and spurring growth. The World Development Report 2008 notes three-quarters of all poor people live in rural areas and rely on farming and related activities for their livelihoods. It calls for more investment in this sector. Lisa Schlein was at the launch of the report in Geneva and has this report for VOA.

The World Bank reports three out of every four poor people in developing countries live in rural areas, and most of them depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods.

The World Development Report argues there must be a renewed emphasis on agriculture and increased investments in the rural sector if the Millennium Development Goals of cutting poverty and hunger in half by 2015 are to be met.

Co-author of the report, Derek Byerlee, says about one-third of sub-Saharan Africa's Gross Domestic Product originates in agriculture.

"And, it is a sector that is also very important in terms of providing affordable food and affecting the wages and the competitiveness of the economy," said Derek Byerlee. "It is a sector that in the early stages of development often has a comparative advantage in international trade. And, it is a sector that is shown in the evidence we present in chapter one of the report, it has quite strong growth linkages with other sectors. So, if you can generate growth in the agricultural sector, it has strong spillover effects on growth in the other sectors."

The report notes about 86 percent of rural people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. It says farming provides jobs for 1.3 billion small land holders and landless workers.

The report finds agricultural growth in sub-Saharan Africa has accelerated from 2.3 percent in the 1980s to 3.5 percent in the first years of this decade. It says countries such as Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique and Kenya are all experiencing accelerated growth rates in agriculture.

Byerlee says there are new market opportunities into which countries are able to tap.

"Increasing demand coming from bio-fuel," he said. "This is mostly, at the moment, especially in terms of grain coming from the U.S., sugar cane from Brazil. But, it is a market that is out there and one that presents significant new opportunities for the agricultural sector, but also significant risk in terms of trade-offs for food prices and the environment."

The report says rapidly expanding domestic and global markets, the revolutions in biotechnology and information technology offer exciting opportunities to use agriculture to promote development.

But, it warns land and water resources are becoming ever scarcer. It says the future of agriculture is intrinsically tied to better management of natural resources. It also says for African farmers to be successful, trade barriers must come down.