Our Perspective

Greening rice cultivation in the Philippines to combat climate change

When I began supporting the Philippines Programme for rice cultivation, I saw it through the lens of climate change mitigation. The logic was, if we made some necessary improvements to cultivation methods, we could reduce greenhouse gas emission (GGE) and help mitigate climate change. This is especially important in a country where 29 percent of the GGEs come from rice cultivation. However, I quickly learned was that although you might be driven and committed to work towards reducing global warming, it does not necessarily lead to the critical buy-in of stakeholders like the Department of Agriculture, the National Irrigation Administration, and farmers.… Read more

Greening rice cultivation in the Philippines benefits the country and our world

In the Philippines, rice is the most important crop and its agriculture represents 11% of the growing GDP of the country.

When I began supporting the Philippines Programme for rice cultivation, I saw it through the lens of climate change mitigation. The logic was, if we made some necessary improvements to cultivation methods, we could reduce greenhouse gas emission (GHG) and help mitigate climate change. This is especially important in a country where 29 percent of the GHGs come from rice cultivation. However, I quickly learned that although you might be driven and committed to work towards reducing global warming, it does not necessarily lead to the critical buy-in of stakeholders like the Department of Agriculture, the National Irrigation Administration, and farmers. Our Adaptation and Mitigation programme aimed to improve local cultivation techniques in order to lower GHGs. Irrigation techniques like the applied Alternative Wetting and Drying, allow for modification of water management for shorter periods of rice flooding and a reduction of methane emissions. The first phase of the program involves building capacity for these improved techniques and supporting farmers in diversifying their income sources through the production of mushrooms, vegetables or other crops. It was estimated that this would help the Philippines reduce GHGs by 36,455,063 tons of carbon dioxide. The programme would eventually be extended to the entire country … Read more

Costing crises and pricing risk: delivering on ‘sustainability’

In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts on key financing for development issues. Earthquakes. Cyclones. Drought. Conflict. The Ebola outbreak. Oil price collapses. Shocks and stresses of different kinds strain countries, communities and families, many of them seriously and have been shown to have set back development, sometimes for decades.  For the Financing for Development (FfD) negotiations, this issue is critical. Volatility is the world’s new normal. We must consider the financing consequences in a world where shocks, crises and emergencies are commonplace. Disasters and economic collapse can, in some cases, lead to increasing and unsustainable debt. The particular vulnerabilities of least developed countries and small island developing states is well recognised. We need a change of mindset to recognize that shocks and stresses are part and parcel of development processes in countries at all income levels. Therefore investments in risk and resilience need to be an integral part of the process. Practically speaking we need to do two inter-related things: calculate the cost of crisis and price fully the reduction of risk. For the first, we already have some figures. We know disasters have cost between 2 and 3 trillion dollars over 20 years, and that individual disasters impact … Read more

When it comes to governance, millions have an opinion

Recently, the world was gripped by a global corruption scandal, involving alleged bribes and kickbacks across continents and institutions. In May, ten times as many people tweeted about issues related to transparency, corruption, and ‘good governance’ than about health or food issues. But even before the FIFA scandal broke, ‘honest and responsive government’ was consistently one of the most tweeted development issues. People care what their governments do, and how politicians and officials manage the budgets entrusted to them. They also care whether they are free to express their views publicly. As we move towards a new global development agenda encapsulated in the sustainable development goals (SDGs), we must find a way to capture ordinary people’s views about those who govern them. Debates about measuring governance have often been highly technical, among statisticians and experts with numbers and concepts that baffle ordinary people. When the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were decided, a governance goal was not included because it was considered too difficult and controversial to measure. Yet in the last 15 years, enormous progress has been made in this area. There are now numerous expert assessments of different aspects of governance, and in recent years nationally representative surveys have been … Read more

South-South cooperation -- how can we maximize its impact on sustainable development?

Risk Reduction Management Centers, a successful initiative in hurricane-prone Cuba, are being scaled up across partnering Caribbean states. Photo: Carolina Azevedo/ UNDP

In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts on key financing for development issues. South-South Cooperation is gaining new momentum as global political and economic realities change rapidly. It is also adding critical value to development. So how can we ensure that the larger potential of SSC is reflected in ongoing discussions on financing for development, while recognizing its differences from more traditional forms of ‘North-South’ development cooperation? SSC encompasses elements of trade, investment and technology transfer as well as direct financial assistance between developing countries. In 2013, South-South trade in goods was valued at about US$ 5 trillion. South-South grants, concessional loans, debt relief and technology transfer were estimated between US$16 to 19 billion in 2011, and continue to rise. These figures undoubtedly underestimate the true scale of such flows since they are not reported in any systematic way. Much of it is also not directly quantifiable such as the amount of knowledge shared or technology transferred through SSC. SSC made, and continues to make, an important contribution to development and to people’s lives. It is also becoming more diverse. For example, while SSC continues to favour infrastructure investments (around 55% of its activities), it also supports the social … Read more

My journey on the Human Development Report enterprise

Selim Jahan and Amartya Sen at the Human Development Report Office in the 1990s. Photo: UNDP

“It is an intellectual Enterprise,” Mahbub ul Haq, a Star Trek fan, would fondly say about the Human Development Report (HDR). The Report was his brainchild, and he was the captain of the HDR Enterprise. And it was this Enterprise’s dynamism, out-of-box thinking and intellectual courage that attracted me to it. What a journey I have had with the HDR over the last quarter of a century - a core-author of the Report, a vivid reader, and a committed champion of it. And it feels good to be ‘back home’, having taken the rein of the Report less than a year ago. From the very beginning, the HDR took the road not taken, and that has made all the difference. It pursued an alternative way of looking at, and measuring, development and was innovative in putting people, not the economy, at the centre of development as active agents and beneficiaries. Over the years, the HDR has changed the content and tone of the development dialogue around the world.  It has measured development results with indices, which may be as vulgar as the GDP per capita, but not as blind to the broader aspects of human well-being. It has provided advocacy tools … Read more

Years of efforts are paying off in fighting female genital mutilation

Women attend a community meeting at Qena governorate to call to an end to female genital mutilation. Photo: UNDP in Egypt

I was recently in Aswan to meet with the local government, partner NGOs, and people working together to fight against female genital mutilation (FGM), a widely-spread practice in Egypt that predates both Christianity and Islam and was criminalized by Egyptian law in 2008. What a refreshing experience!  The commitment and dedication I found are not only commendable but quite encouraging:  Whole communities are taking a firm stance against a traditional practice that has no religious, medical or moral basis, as declared by both Al Azhar and the Coptic Church. In the village of Nagaa El Haggar, community leaders, local associations, women, men, and children gathered to watch a series of plays performed by young actors, intended to raise awareness and engage people in FGM-related discussions.  What ensued was remarkable: women describing the dramatic impact on their physical and mental health, men talking openly about the damage caused in their marital relations, and girls referring to it as ‘worst day in my life’. Since 2005, the Governorate of Aswan has taken a firm stance in combatting FGM.  To date, ten villages have declared their opposition to this harmful practice and are continuing to advocate for its end.  A community association member stated, … Read more

If the oceans were a country...

If the ocean were a country it would have the seventh largest economy in the world – larger than Brazil’s or Russia’s. Photo: UNDP São Tomé and Príncipe

I recently went diving among some of the amazing coral reefs of Indonesia. Their sheer beauty is beyond description, and their value is beyond calculation. But let’s try to put it in perspective. The World Wildlife Fund recently estimated that the total asset base of the ocean is valued at US$24 trillion, and the annual “gross marine product” (GMP) – equivalent to a country’s annual gross domestic product – is at least US$2.5 trillion. To make that real, imagine that we gave every person alive in the world today US$350 every year; we’d still have a little left over from the wealth we extract from the oceans annually. If the ocean were a country it would have the seventh largest economy in the world – larger than Brazil’s or Russia’s. Oceans provide a substantial portion of the global population with food and livelihoods and are the means of transport of 80 percent of global trade. They absorb nearly one-third of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, delaying and mitigating the effects of climate change. The sea also offers vast potential for renewable ‘blue energy’ production from wind, wave, tidal, thermal and biomass sources. But despite the benefits we derive from the ocean, … Read more

What are the development solutions for displacement

Aziza Galmi, 39, left Central African Republic for Chad with her three daughters after losing her husband. Photo: UNDP in Chad

The tumultuous events in countries like Yemen, Iraq, Ukraine, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have left millions of people displaced. Over 50 million people around the world are living as internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. According to UNHCR figures, over three quarters of the 50 million are in a state of protracted displacement— lasting for over 5 years. It is obvious that conflict in these countries may not end soon. We have also witnessed that natural disasters, such as the major earthquake in Nepal, contribute to enormous displacement. Such crises require development interventions early on alongside humanitarian support. On the other hand, displacement comes at a high cost to the host communities and host governments with increased demand for basic amenities such as water, sanitation, education, health care services along with the need to address job opportunities— one of the possible reasons to fuel local conflicts and destabilize the host communities. The challenges of displacement need to be addressed with commitment from both sides –the displaced as well as the host communities or governments. What are the development solutions for displacement and how can UNDP help with the reintegration of IDPs and returning refugees within in … Read more

Chat with UN Development Chief


This year, World Environment Day's theme "Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care." reminds us to respect our planet and to manage natural resources efficiently—all aspects that are important if we truly want to achieve sustainable development globally.   During my recent trip to Tuvalu, a coral islands nation in the South Pacific that recently was hit hard by Cyclone Pam, I witnessed the visible affects that climate change has on the lives of some of the most vulnerable communities in the world. Land erosion and saltwater intrusion impede agricultural and other economic activities and contaminate drinking water. The rising sea level will force the inhabitants to leave the island in less than 50 years. Until then, they have to prepare for regular extreme weather events that constantly threaten to destroy their homes, livelihoods and development gains in general. Tuvalu is just one of many examples of how development and climate change are intrinsically connected.  Our #WEDChat with UN Development Chief Helen Clark (@HelenClarkUNDP) on Twitter on this special day strives to stimulate greater thinking and action on this issue in view of the crucial decisions that will be taken later this year: both the launch of the Post-2015 Development Agenda in September and the new agreement … Read more

Working to build an inclusive and sustainable future for all

Sanju Bhoi picks spinach from her floating garden in Odisha State, India. In partnership with the Odisha government, UNDP is helping communities adapt to extreme weather events. Photo: UNDP India

For UNDP and the entire United Nations system, 2015 is a year of historic milestones. It is the 70th anniversary year for the UN— founded in 1945. It is also the year in which the 15-year quest to achieve the Millennium Development Goals concludes, and a new era of global development commitments is expected to be launched with the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals by world leaders in September. UNDP played a central role in devising, promoting and helping countries to achieve the MDGs, and is now working with its national partners to prepare for the SDGs. We are helping to integrate the SDGs into national development planning, and are providing data-based support for measuring progress toward the new goals, both locally and globally. The new goals are likely to include completing the unfinished business of the MDGs, with the eradication of poverty being a central objective. Despite impressive progress on poverty reduction in recent years, there are still 1 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day. We also have an obligation to protect our planet for the sake of future generations and to safeguard today’s hard-won development gains. In December, climate change COP21 in Paris is scheduled to … Read more

How can agro-commodity traders contribute to the SDGs

Ghana’s cocoa is produced by thousands of smallholder farmers, spread over six of the country’s 10 regions. Photo: COCOBOD

With the global population predicted to reach nine billion by 2050, we face a dual challenge: ensuring the continued production of agricultural commodities, such as soy, palm oil, cattle, coffee and cocoa, without destroying the planet’s natural resources that humanity depends on to survive. Agricultural commodities are the bedrock of a number of rural developing economies, contributing to vital economic growth and the ongoing fight against poverty. As such, they play a critical role in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals. But deforestation and land degradation, a direct result of the growth of the agriculture sector, is irreversibly damaging our planet, its biodiversity, and the important ecosystem services it provides. In fact, the largest driver of deforestation today is the production of agricultural commodities. This is why UNDP set up the Green Commodities Programme (GCP) in 2009 to spearhead dialogue, decision-making and action in the agro-commodity sector between governments, the private sector and civil society. The goal is to improve the economic, social and environmental impact of agricultural commodities, with a specific focus on improving the lot of smallholders, most of whom live in poverty with no access to training, financing or land security. For example, an estimated 26 million coffee … Read more

Racing against the clock, torrential rains and new earthquakes

The destruction in rural areas affected by the earthquake is severe. Basic services have been affected, and families with babies have difficulty responding to the health needs and housing. Photo: Ugo Blanco / UNDP

The truth is I didn’t know what time it was. Only weeks after the terrible earthquake that devastated Nepal, I was with a team of engineers working with families from the Sindhupalchock district, a rural area in the centre of Nepal where barely a house was left standing. As a UNDP regional crisis adviser, I was focused on the job at hand -- but fate had other plans. Another quake hit. I didn't know what was happening. My legs started shaking uncontrollably, and suddenly I fell to the ground. Then I heard the shouts. Many of the families we were there to help panicked. Men, women, children -- everyone was screaming. Some fainted, while even more homes collapsed around us. In Nepal, we are running against the clock, facing a large number of challenges that make reconstruction a complex task. Over 300,000 homes were damaged. They pose a huge risk, as it’s only a matter of time until they too collapse. In addition, winter is approaching with its torrential monsoon rains. It is absolutely urgent that we help these communities have safer and warmer homes in the coming weeks. People who already had very little before the earthquakes, have now lost … Read more

Impact investing for a sustainable future

Big players are already engaging heavily in various impact investment ventures in various parts of the globe. Photo: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts on key financing for development issues. Business does not take place in a vacuum. It takes place in countries, within communities and amongst people. Some say that the most critical aspect of a successful business is the customer. I would agree: A business that contributes to the wellbeing and affluence of its customers, by giving back, ensures that in the long run those clients are able to afford and continue to consume the goods and services that the business provides. Smart business sense.    While many business people have given back to communities through philanthropic ventures over the years, some investors rather only prefer to ensure that their investments are responsible, wherein they explicitly acknowledge the relevance of environmental, social and governance factors to their investment, without necessarily aiming to have a positive social or environmental return from their investments. Taking responsible investment (PDF) a step further, impact investment is a concept which responds quite strongly to the driving force behind running a private corporation… the need to make a profit, and in addition to a financial return, ensures measurable positive social and environmental impacts from an investment. Impact investing has been … Read more

Let’s make 2015 a turning point for youth participation

Youth should be part of the development agenda. Photos: UNDP

2015 has a special significance for all of us. We look beyond the Millennium Development Goals and feel increasingly excited about the bold, ambitious and inclusive development agenda that is shaping up. It is vital to ensure that 2015 is also a turning point for youth participation. Youth are eager and ready to contribute. Youth not only expect to have a say in defining the sustainable development priorities for the next 15 years, but they also want to be seen as equal partners in the implementation and monitoring of this agenda. It is no secret that young people remain largely excluded from political, civic, economic and social processes at all levels. At UNDP, our Youth Strategy for 2014-2017 outlines a vision for engaging and empowering youth in governance, in jobs and livelihoods, and in strengthening their communities and societies. That work includes promoting youth political participation and young women in decision-making, advocating for youth-led monitoring and accountability and strengthening the capacities of youth organizations and networks of young social innovators. And we want to make this programming more coherent and sustainable, and to open more doors for youth to get involved with our work, propose solutions, share experiences, participate in our … Read more

In Haiti, a neighbourhood converts ideas into innovation and opportunities

Forty initiatives were selected and an initial capital of US$500 to $1,500 was awarded, so they could transform their "idea" into a reality. Photo: UNDP Haiti

Fort National is a very poor and dangerous neighbourhood of Puerto Príncipe, a neighbourhood identified with high crime rates, violence, and large numbers of weapons. The mere mention of its name sets off alarm bells, warning you "Do not enter". In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their experiences and views on innovation in development practice.… Read more

Africa: Navigating the grey scale

To transform economic growth into shared prosperity, African countries must boost employment creation. Photo: Aude Rossignol/UNDP Burundi

The recent news out of Africa offers a mix of optimism and gloom, defying simple theories that the continent is either rising or hopeless. What is missing in either of these narratives is the admission that development involves a process of ebb and flow, full of progress and setbacks. On that grey scale, economic growth can lead to increased levels of inequality and even co-exist with political instability and conflict. When this reality is taken into account, the question becomes not whether a country is growing but how to make the transition from economic growth to a situation of shared prosperity and stability. Breakthroughs are possible, and they can lead to marked improvements in the lives of ordinary women and men. Take Mauritius. The island nation has transformed itself from a poor sugar producer into a diversified, modern economy that exports textiles and excels at providing international financial services to the rest of the world. Ethiopia is another example. Over the past three decades, the country became one of Africa’s fastest-growing, non-energy economies and its exports have diversified to include leather goods, agricultural products and textiles. The government is investing massively to transform its agriculture, climate-proof the economy and eliminate child … Read more

Harnessing benefits from a cup of Colombian Coffee

Farmers in Colombia plant seedlings of native plants for a biological conservation corridor in an area of coffee farms. Photo: UNDP in Colombia

Today is the International Day of Biological Diversity, which has for me deep personal, professional and cultural significance. Working in Latin America and Caribbean region, I have witnessed firsthand the profound dependence that we all have on the natural world – especially people who work closely with the land and sea. In UNDP, we are committed to harnessing this reliance in ways that improve biodiversity and people’s lives. Thinking about the significance of this day and the importance of this work, I am reminded of Dora Garcia, a Colombian coffee farmer who participated in an innovative UNDP-supported, GEF-financed project. How surprised she was when she began receiving additional income based on the carbon sequestered by native trees she planted almost five years earlier! Mrs. Garcia is one of the coffee farmers who embraced this opportunity and received social, economic and environmental benefits when she decided to produce a cup of coffee spiced with biodiversity-friendly policies, sustainable practices, and ecosystem services. In Colombia, for over 50 years coffee has been the main engine of economic growth and development in the biodiversity-rich landscapes of the Andean region. Colombia’s excellent growing conditions, paired with an aggressive marketing campaign by the National Federation of Coffee … Read more

A data revolution for international financial flows?

Foreign direct investment in Burkina Faso in 2010 amounted to US$888 million including technical cooperation, according to the OECD. Photo: UNDP in Burkina Faso

In this blog series, our experts share their thoughts on key financing for development issues. At the start of 2016, the U.N. will launch a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, to drive development efforts around the globe. But one question still needs some thought: How will we finance these new goals? Even more questions lie within this broader question on finance. Which countries need more resources? What types of resources are needed most? Where does international finance, both public and private, currently flow? Where does it not? Answers to all of these require reliable and easy-to-understand data on all international financial flows. When governments convene in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to agree on a framework for financing the new sustainable development agenda, there will be a key window of opportunity to improve the existing, haphazard approach to data collection and reporting. In one sense, we already have unprecedented data at our fingertips. Yet, for example, if you were to ask the heads of the U.N., the IMF, and the World Bank how much financing low-income countries receive in a given year and from which sources, you would receive a very different answer from each. This happens for … Read more

The hidden aspects of women’s poverty

A Hmong woman and her child in Viet Nam. According to UN Women, women do two and a half times as much unpaid work as men, including caring for children, the elderly and the ill. Photo: Kibae Park/UN

“Let’s make the invisible visible.” This statement, by Argentina Minister of Social Development Alicia Kirchner, captured a recurrent theme at the global conference on women and social inclusion, recently co-hosted by UNDP in Buenos Aires. Despite the gains that women have made over the past decades, there are still too many factors affecting women’s lives that are not recognized in public policies. Unless they are addressed, efforts to eradicate poverty and drive sustainable development will fall short. Topping this list is the substantial amount of unpaid work that women do throughout the world, in countries both rich and poor. According to a recent UN Women report, women do almost two and a half times as much unpaid care work as men, from caring for children, the elderly and the ill to preparing meals and gathering water and fuel for cooking. But despite this daily reality that women know all too well, official measures of poverty don’t take into account either the time women spend on unpaid work or the money they might spend to “outsource” this work – such as to arrange childcare so they can go to work. If these factors were recognized and included in poverty measurements, many more … Read more

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