FAO broadens cooperation with the World Bank

Using a treadle pump at a Special Programme pilot site in Burkina Faso: improving small-scale irrigation is one focus of the renewed FAO/World Bank alliance

Following the signing in early 1997 of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between FAO's Director-General and the President of the World Bank, collaboration between the two organizations has taken on new dimensions. Besides investment preparation work, as carried out by FAO's Investment Centre Division, technical divisions and units throughout FAO are being increasingly engaged in joint activities with the Bank both at headquarters and in the field.

This development comes at a time when the Bank's lending for agriculture and rural development has begun to expand, after almost ten years of decline. The Bank extended loans and credits of US$3.5 billion to governments for agriculture in the fiscal year 1997, or 19 percent of its total lending, compared to only 12 percent in each fiscal year 1996 and 1995.

The widened and enhanced collaboration constitutes what World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn has referred to as a "strategic alliance" between the two institutions - matching FAO's technical expertise and experience with the World Bank's funding and overall development support capabilities.

A central core of the renewed relationship revolves around FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), which reflects the shared priority of assisting common member low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) to tackle problems of domestic food production and supply in the face of increasing populations, rural poverty, and pressure on natural resources. Through SPFS projects, information and practical experience are being gained to facilitate larger-scale, national and regional development programmes that can attract significant investment support from the World Bank and other development financing partners.

The first region where such expanded cooperation has taken off is sub-Saharan Africa. In the past six months innovative joint activities, largely in the region's LIFDCs, have gained momentum in the areas of small-scale irrigation, soil fertility, agricultural and rural statistics, and assistance for country-based agricultural sector investment programme initiatives. Support has been provided for a number of operational SPFS projects in the subregion, plus other SPFS pilot projects still under formulation.

Hans Binswanger, the Bank's rural sector chief for Africa, said, "We want to become more closely involved with all major technical departments in areas of practical collaboration between the Bank and FAO. This is the policy we are pursuing through the Bank's Rural Sector Board, which groups all rural sector specialists throughout the Bank."

Jean-Louis Sarbib, World Bank Vice President for Africa, visiting FAO headquarters in Rome, spoke of the Bank's ambitious programme to lift the region out of extreme rural poverty and tackle problems of food security through joint collaboration with FAO and other partners. "FAO has a wealth of experience and expertise which we need to draw on productively", emphasized Sarbib, "particularly at a time when the Bank's own skills in these fields have in fact diminished." Following Sarbib's visit, the areas of forestry, fisheries, and nutrition/phytosanitary interventions are being added to the future joint work programme for Africa.

"The progress in respect to Africa is a forerunner for the same widened cooperation in other regions", explained David Forbes Watt, FAO's Investment Centre Director. "Already, a similar MoU has been initialled for East Asia, and we expect the Bank's other regional departments to follow suit in their interaction with FAO."


Investment Centre's 34-year history with the Bank

FAO has worked closely with the World Bank since 1964 through the FAO Investment Centre's Cooperative Programme (CP). Traditionally, around one-third of World Bank projects in agriculture and rural development are prepared with CP help. Between 1964 and 1996, the Investment Centre has helped prepare 1 093 projects, involving total investments of US$56.9 billion for agricultural and rural development. Of this amount, over half has been in the form of external loans.

The Investment Centre cooperates with a wide range of financing institutions and has begun to collaborate with a number of national banks and funds. The Centre's counterparts are host country government agencies, but it also works closely with the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

More information on the FAO Investment Centre.

21 April 1998

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