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Research Highlights 2006: Sustainable Rural and Urban Development

Research Highlights
Publications in 2006
Forthcoming in 2007

Research on rural and urban development, infrastructure and the environment was brought together in one team in September 2006. This new team has a wide-ranging work program covering many aspects of the rural-urban space and the interactions within it. Poverty is a rural phenomenon in many countries (75 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas), but in fast urbanizing countries poverty is increasingly, and even predominantly urban (for example, much of Latin America).


The research program on rural development reflects key operational areas of the World Bank—land policy, community-driven development, water resources management, diversification of nonfarm rural income, rural microcredit, and rural infrastructure.

The climate change work focuses on greenhouses gas producing sectors, specifically the assessment of long-term "lock-ins" of urban, energy and transport patterns in mega cities, the implications of biofuels, analysis of the determinants of carbon finance collaboration, and evaluating adaptation policies in agriculture.

The work program on tropical forestry yielded a Policy Research Report on the tradeoffs (or their absence) between forest conservation and poverty alleviation and development. Other planned environment research deals with indoor pollution, public disclosure policies on environmental performance, the health effects of pesticides, and the dissemination of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) technology.

The research on infrastructure and urbanization highlights spatial linkages. It focuses on the role of externalities (such as agglomeration effects), public infrastructure investment, and urban management in addressing issues of lagging economic growth and urban poverty.

All themes of the research program have an empirical orientation, focusing on national and global development issues.

Research Highlights

Simple improvements in agricultural pesticide use could save many lives

Pesticide poisoning affects between one and five million agricultural workers per year, resulting in at least 20,000 deaths. A recently completed study shows that in Bangladesh, over 47 percent of farmers are overusing pesticides [278]. Further, the productivity of farms utilizing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods in Bangladesh was not significantly different from that in farms using conventional methods. Since IPM reduces pesticide costs, it offers higher profits than conventional rice farming, as well as substantial health and ecological benefits [forthcoming 119]. In Vietnam, blood tests of Mekong Delta rice farmers indicate a high prevalence of pesticide poisoning (35 percent), with a large proportion showing chronic poisoning (21 percent). Comparison of blood test results with self-reported symptoms further suggests that farmers are not aware of the connection between pesticide use and their health problems [forthcoming 120].

The research suggests an urgent need for active promotion of prudent behavioral and hygienic practices among pesticide applicators. Switching to lower toxicity pesticides, the use of protective gear, and utilization of environmentally friendly IPM practices will help reduce individual health risks and environmental damage. This research program examines the severity of toxic agricultural pollution and analyzes the potential for adopting safer production methods.

National decisions on transport and education explain differences in cities’ growth

Some policy makers believe that a city government’s policies have a crucial impact on a city’s economic performance. However, a recent study utilizing data from 123 Brazilian agglomerations between 1970 and 2000 indicates that national government decisions on improving inter-regional transport linkages and expenditures in education (that improved labor force quality) explain much of the variation in cities’ growth. In contrast, local crime and violence as well as uncoordinated land development have a much smaller impact compared to those from transport and education improvements. This suggests a key role for national governments in decisions regarding urban development [forthcoming 130].

Land tenure security can enhance investments in farm improvement

A study based on a large household survey in Ethiopia has shown that tenure security was a significant factor affecting positively the level of investments in the improvement and maintenance of terraces. These are not the type of investments that are immediately visible, and hence cannot be viewed as activities undertaken in order to enhance security. On the other hand, investment in trees was observed even on plots with little tenure security (in some regions this is done in order to enhance security, as such investments are clearly visible to others). It was also shown that possession of transfer rights enhances investment. The large productivity effect associated with terracing imply that, even where households undertake certain investments (tree planting) to increase their tenure security, there are other productivity-enhancing investments that are not undertaken at an optimal level. This suggests that government action to increase tenure security and transferability of land rights in Ethiopia has the potential to significantly enhance rural investment [284].

Preserving shrinking forests and improving economic prospects for millions requires better forest governance

A new Policy Research Report, At Loggerheads? Agricultural Expansion, Poverty Reduction and Environment in the Tropical Forests, says that deploying new approaches to governance and tapping emerging funds aimed at climate change mitigation, could help to conserve the world’s rapidly shrinking tropical forests and to improve the lives of the 800 million people who live in or near those forests [292].

Using new geographical data and analyses, the report describes the environmental, economic, and institutional challenges facing three different kinds of forests. Forest-agriculture mosaics contain a large proportion of the world’s tropical forest dwellers, but only a small portion of the forest itself. Managing local environmental impacts of deforestation, such as impacts on water flows, is a priority here. In forest frontiers, the challenge is to fairly assign and reliably enforce rights over trees and land. In areas beyond the agricultural frontier—currently comprising much of the forest but occupied by few people—the challenge is to head off conflictual and destructive land and timber grabs.

The report uses a political economy framework to describe why conflicts over forests and deforestation are both common and difficult to resolve, and how technological and institutional innovations—such as reductions in the cost of forest monitoring, and new approaches to land and forest regulation—may be able to catalyze improved governance and new solutions.

The report pays special attention to the potential for addressing the global problem of climate change through reduced deforestation. Tropical deforestation releases twice as much carbon dioxide as the world’s cars and trucks. However, the report shows that it is potentially inexpensive to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions associated with forest clearance and burning. It argues that properly designed incentives for reduced deforestation could support forest conservation and sustainable agriculture in the tropical world.


Gershon Feder, Senior Research Manager

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