Women’s health and education have improved substantially in most countries, but progress is lagging on improving their economic opportunities, and investments of some USD 13 billion a year are needed to achieve the overall goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment, says a new report by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Out of 122 countries for which data are available, 82 achieved the official MDG3 target of gender parity in primary and secondary enrollment by 2005. However, 19 countries, 13 of which are in Sub- Saharan Africa, are seriously off track to meet this target, it said.

Sagging farm productivity and increasing demand have brought the world to a crossroads in terms of food security, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said Sunday. Failure to act now could lead to a long-term crisis that will make this year’s price spikes seem a mere blip on the radar. According to the IRRI, a “wholesale reinvestment in agriculture” was needed, which would include research in improved technologies, infrastructure development, and training and education of agricultural scientists and trainers. The stark warning - also in line with calls from organizations such as the World Bank, the World Food Program and Asian Development Bank - was issued by members of the IRRI board of trustees following their meeting last week.

Rising food and commodity prices and credit strains in markets have increased demand for funding by the World Bank’s private-sector lender for new agricultural investments in developing countries. Oscar Chemerinski, the IFC’s Director for Agribusiness Department, said IFC had tripled its investments in agriculture over the past three years and expected it to grow by 20 percent this year. Chemerinski said food prices are likely to remain high over the next few years and IFC was looking at ways to support the private sector to increase food production by improving farming methods and bringing under-utilized land into production, especially in middle-income countries where there is great potential.

East African finance ministers have committed to scrapping public service pensions across the region, and replacing them with new schemes that will require civil servants to contribute towards securing their retirement. The move, say the ministers, will save huge amounts of tax payers’ money and free up public funds for critical investments that the region needs to make to speed up economic growth. And as a sweetener to all those entering the new, liberalized pension schemes, any money earned on their investments will be tax-free.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is funding a project that will look at creating risk insurance schemes designed to improve the regions ability to cope with natural disasters. The Japan Special Fund, through ADB, has provided a grant of $800,000 to the project. It includes a conference in Tokyo on November 4 to bring together international experts and study various risk transfer mechanisms including regional

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