Natural Resources Management in Asian Development BankImage by Virens (Latin for greening) via Flickr
By Elpidio Peria
Natural Resources Management or NRM is nowhere in the priorities or core areas of operation of ADB's Long-Term Strategy (2008-2020) or Strategy 2020. In that document, the environment is next to infrastructure, but it deals mainly with issues relating to urban environment issues, such as climate mitigation, livable cities, etc. The ADB's own Evaluation Report in 2008 however states that Strategy 2020 has placed the sustainable management of natural resources high in its agenda particularly as it seeks to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth in developing member countries (DMCs).
The ADB's Agriculture and Natural Resources Research (ANRR) agenda derives from ADB's own 1995 paper on Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy, which has the following items : (1) developing remunerative farming systems for poor farmers; (2) enhancing income and living standards of women; (3) improving sustainable management of agriculture and natural resources; (4) enhancing the productivity of agriculture; (4) enhancing the capacity of national agriculture research stations (NARS); and (5) conducting research on socioeconomics and public policy.
ADB's own assessment of the current challenges in Asia-Pacific include : population growth and rapid urbanization, increasing competition for resources, trade liberalization and globalization of markets, including globalization of agricultural food systems where the specific challenge now is on the ability of small producers to overcome the barriers posed by concerns of food safety and quality standards and inevitably, climate change. But the real key challenges of the region relate to increasing poverty and inequality, worsening environmental degradation, growing competition for resources and climate change, all of which are actually outlined as the challenges confronted by the Strategy 2020.
The ADB's in a 2008 report recommended that the current ANRR Policy must be updated, to align it more closely with Strategy 2020, in addition to giving the usual support for short- and long-term research, restoring the level of ANRR funding such that it will be at US$5million per specific technical assistance and lastly, to promote the wider utilization of ANRR products.
Before CSOs may be persuaded to support these recommendations at their face value, they, and the public in general should be aware of the following :
1) for now, ADB has categorized agriculture under "Other Areas of Operation" when the bulk of Asia's poor are in the agriculture sector (including fisheries and forestry). In the ADB's 2009 Annual Report, "Agriculture and Food Security" is categorized as "Cross-Cutting Initiatives", with only 7 loans allotted with a measly $443 million in 2009, including ANR as a whole. This is a dismal failure, considering that ADB targeted to increase its lending for agriculture and rural development to more than US$2 billion in 2009
If ADB is serious in actualizing its vision of “inclusive” economic growth, agriculture should be part of its Core Area of Operation. Even in the Environment core area, the key areas there have nothing to do with forestry, fisheries and agriculture which comprise the area/sector of "Natural Resource". It should not be that ADB's notion of environment be limited only to the urban environment, as that is not where the bulk of Asia-Pacific's poor live.
2) the ADB's support for short- and long- term research, and even restoring the level of ANRR funding at US$5 million should be reconsidered. The ADB's ANRR investments are virtually allocated to the Centres (IARCs), specifically the (CGIAR).
What must be asked here is : what kinds of projects has the CGIAR implemented using the technical assistance money from the ADB? The CGIAR has been mainly responsible for the environmental, social and economic problems attributed to its active push for the extension programs, etc. involving partnerships between the CGIAR and NARS and increasingly with the private sector. The ADB believes that the future of ANRR should be based on public-private partnership (PPP), but this open push for this kind of collaboration should be reviewed. For example, IRRI's PPP, the , the public and the political leaders of the region should be made aware of the details of auctioning out the hybrid parentals to the highest bidders from the private sector. and now with this recommendation that the bulk of ADB's support to the CGIAR are "restricted funds" - which means that the funds have to be spent exclusively for specific projects that the ADB agreed to fund, we have to ask, what are those projects that are allocated with "restricted funds" from the ADB? From ADB's own documents, we can see that most of these projects are in advanced rice genomics, biotechnology, seeds
Another aspect of this research support relates to the National Agriculture Research Systems (NARS), which the ADB does not fund directly, unless one of these NARS, like, for example, PhilRice, has a long-time partnership with the CGIAR or the project will involve co-implementation with the CGIAR. ADB says this is done to reduce project transaction costs and to avoid thinly spreading already limited resources for ANRR, thus they want to deal only with the CGIAR.
The problem with this set-up is that the NARS cannot then develop their capacity to do agricultural R&D tailored for the specific needs and situation of the country and their farmers; what is worse, they will now become eternally dependent on the CGIAR for expertise and technical capacity since that's the only way for them to access funds from the ADB.
3) The capacity building priorities on ADB's ANRR are on advanced genomics, applied genomics (marker development), and seeds extension training for farmers, which are what the CGIAR capacity building is all about. To address the concerns on the lack of participatory approaches in CGIAR research, ADB funded the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE) in 2002 which uses participatory modes of problem identification and solution. The ADB also boasts of supporting the CGIAR's project promoting zero tillage in wheat and rice production which they say has reduced the use of diesel by more than 50 liters per hectare, but silent on the increased use of herbicides in zero-till systems.
This kind of top-down capacity building priorities, palliative participatory approaches in agricultural research, and technology fixes to the problems of farmers should not be continued. It must be noted that it was the ADB that funded the development and promotion of hybrid rice seeds in the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, etc. under a program coordinated by IRRI. It was ADB too that funded the Asia Maize Biotechnology Network in 1998 which bore the fruit of commercially introducing GM corn in the Philippines. These are projects that has leveraged private sector investments in rice, corn and wheat in Asia. Who has benefited from the foray of these giant companies, definitely not the poor farmers whose numbers have not been reduced.