It is estimated that more than 250 million school children throughout the world cannot read. This is unfortunate because literacy has enormous benefits – both for the individual and society. Higher literacy rates are associated with healthier populations, less crime, greater economic growth, and higher employment rates. For a person, literacy is a foundational skill required to acquire advanced skills. These, in turn, confer higher wages and more employment across labor markets .
During my recent trip to Malawi, I saw that the expansion of agriculture, of illegal logging, and of charcoal production are decimating the country’s once-forested hillsides, causing soil to wash into rivers, wetlands, and lakes. This loss of topsoil is reducing crop yields, putting stress on agriculture-dependent communities, and leading to increasingly intense land use.
Over the past decade, commitments and support for Forest Landscape Restoration have grown significantly. As part of the Bonn Challenge, for instance, some 40 countries, sub-national jurisdictions, and non-governmental entities have now pledged to restore forest landscapes across 148 million hectares. Although the environmental benefits in terms of ecosystem services, soil restoration, water, biodiversity and climate resilience are evident, the tremendous economic arguments and the value proposition for poor people living in, or nearby, the forests, are not always at the forefront of the efforts to restore landscapes.
In fact, some 1.3 billion people around the world depend on forests for their livelihood—that is 20% of the global population. This includes income from the sale of trees and tree-related products. It also includes the value of fruit, fodder, medicines, and other direct or indirect products that they consume. However, the restoration of forest landscape at a global scale needs a new vision for an integrated forest economy which appreciates and understands forests along their entire value chain. Thus it is crucial to see forest landscape restoration efforts as much more than just protecting forests, but as a force for economic growth and poverty reduction.
The global economy is stagnating, and uncertainty about its future is rising. These trends weigh heavily on countries that depend on the production and export of a small range of products, or that sell products in only a few overseas markets. Prices of the minerals and other basic commodities that dominate the exports of many poor countries have also declined sharply. All of this points up the need for diversification strategies that can deliver sustained, job intensive and inclusive growth.
The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), a joint practice of the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC), is working with a growing roster of client countries eager to achieve greater economic diversification. This is a worthy goal regardless of economic conditions, but especially so now, as developing countries with sector-dependent economies face mounting pressures.
Chile is an example of a diversified economy, exporting more than 2,800 distinct products to more than 120 different countries. Zambia, a country similarly endowed with copper resources, exports just over 700 products — one-fourth of Chile’s export basket — and these go to just 80 countries. Other low-income countries have similarly limited diversified economies. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Malawi, for example, export around 550 and 310 products, respectively. Larger countries that export oil, such as Nigeria (780 products) and Kazakhstan (540 products), have failed to substantially expand the range of products they produce and export.
AJG Simoes, CA Hidalgo. The Economic Complexity Observatory: An Analytical Tool for Understanding the Dynamics of Economic Development. Workshops at the Twenty-Fifth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence. (2011)
While the sluggish global economy is creating economic problems for traditional exports, other economic trends offer new routes and opportunities for poor countries to diversify. The trend toward the spatial splitting up of production across wide geographic areas, and the emergence and growth of regional and global value chains, offer new ways for developing countries to export tasks, services and other activities. Value chains offer developing countries a path out of the trap of having to specialize in whole industries, with all of the cost and risk that such a strategy entails.
As a country that is particularly vulnerable to flooding, Malawians know that they cannot halt the forces of nature, but they can prepare and plan for their impacts – and they did. Supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the World Bank, the Government of Malawi undertook a series of community mapping activities in which it collected data about the environment for a flood risk modeling exercise and other preparedness activities. So in January 2015, when Malawi experienced its most devastating flood in a century, the data that its government collected was used to support recovery activities.
Robust and actionable information like this can help those at risk understand and prepare for hazards, saving lives and assets. However, even in this era of big data and hyper-connectivity, when one would think that every place on earth is already mapped in great detail, such information is often inaccessible, disparate, or altogether nonexistent. Even as recently as this month’s earthquake on the border of Tanzania and Uganda, people still scrambled for spatial information. Doing so in the moments after a disaster, though, is too late.