World Bank Agricultural Projects. Criticisms and Evolution. the Example of Niger.

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Management of development projects – Exposé
Jessica Thomas

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Critical analysis of the program Growth Policy Reform Operation II to increase agricultural productivity in Niger. -------------------------------------------------

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Why are there so many criticisms toward the World Bank’s liberalization policies and structural adjustments in agriculture and how the World Bank could answer to them.

The market liberalization focus of the World Bank programs has been criticized for several years. The general criticisms are that the Bank's initiatives are too heavily focused on improving access to markets and promote the expansion of high-input agriculture rather than a transition to more sustainable methods.

However, despite these criticisms, no powerful alternative model has been able to replace the liberal approach, therefore, questions remain: Do the criticisms of the World tend to simplify the situation or are they relevant? A second question arises; does the WB take into account these objections to transform its programs?

I will in a first part try to present the main arguments criticizing the World Bank programs on agriculture. In a second part, I chose to present a WB’s program supporting agricultural reforms in Niger, in order to see if there is really a tendency to promote only market-solutions because of liberal premises. In a third part, I will try to balance a critical analysis of the project, with the observation of the evolutions in WB’s programs toward more sustainable solutions.

I. Criticisms of the neoliberal approach of the World Bank’s programs for agriculture

We can identify three main types of criticisms toward the World Bank’s programs:

1. The focus on strengthening the private sector by opening markets could damage small farmers’ economic opportunities, as the most competitive actors will dominate. Large corporations have the tools to dominate the market, which can undermine small farmers’ access to these markets. Moreover, small farmers do not necessarily benefit from the same economies of scales than big corporations, and therefore struggle to remain competitive. The famous Berg report, written in 1981, criticized African States’ policies and the so-called “bias against agriculture”, and public interventions had become suspicious, but the decrease in public spending as sometime dramatic consequences.

2. The Bank also defends land reforms to ensure a better distribution of resources. However, some criticisms have emerged about these political choices too, as the reforms had sometime threatened the socio-economic environment of small farmers. The risk of land grabbing has appeared with the sale of large land holdings to foreign commercial interests. Forced sales from poverty or bank seizures could accelerate.

3. The promotion of cheap distribution of agricultural inputs, in particular fertilizer, could be perceived as a short-term solution, damaging the environment.

We can now, try to understand if these criticisms are relevant or tend to simply a more complex situation. It would be also interesting to see if these criticisms have led the World Bank to transform its programs’ objective and implementation.

II. Does the WB project supporting agriculture in Niger could be criticized as focusing on a strategy of liberalization or does the WB developed recently new types of programs to cope with these criticisms?

A. The socio-economic context in Niger: stresses on resources, and consequences of climate change, increase political and social instability.

Geography and demography
Niger is a mostly desert country with a population of around 16 million. Niger has one of the world’s highest population growth rates that put pressure on Niger’s limited resources. The country is regularly facing dramatic climatic crisis and therefore deep social crisis, as...
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