1. The World Bank’s rural development doctrines, 1945–2005

Few other organizations gained so much influence on doctrines and practices of development policies than the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which was founded in 1944 in Bretton Woods. In the first decade of its existence, the Bank, as it came to be called, was heavily involved in the reconstruction of Western Europe. From the late 1950s onward, it focused nearly exclusively on development projects. Infrastructure projects stood at the center of the Bank’s attention. From the mid-1960s onward, the agrarian sector received more funding, especially during the presidency of Robert S. McNamara (1968-1981). In the context of “integrated rural development” and basic needs approaches, funding increased tenfold during the 1970s. Simultaneously, the Bank first secured and then continuously increased its political independence. Ever since, it has been a major orchestrator of global development issues. Conditionality, structural adjustment measures, and privatization efforts together with stronger support for local bottom-up initiatives constituted the central part of the Bank’s activities in the 1980s and 1990s. From the 1990s onwards, its spending has been guided by efforts to reduce poverty and promote gender equality.

At first glance the World Bank appears as an organization studied in depth, seeing that it has been at the center of debates about inequality, asymmetrical power relations, and failed development aid (Easterly 2006; Escobar 1995; Stieglitz 2002). Global governance research, too, has dealt with the Bank extensively (Abbott et al 2013; Tetzlaff 1996; Whitman 2009). Political scientists have concerned themselves with the World Bank’s position on human rights, social capital, the use of credit schemes in structural adjustment policies, etc. (Abouharb/Cingranelli 2006; Bebbington et al 2004; Ponte 1995). The Bank commissioned two studies on its history (Kapur/Lewis/Webb 1997; Mason/Asher 1973). Kapur, Lewis and Webb state that “an urban bias remains alife and well” in the organization (vol. 1, 445). Their work presents a very useful basis for further research. The founding of the Bank has been documented well, especially with regard to the American perspective (Schild 1995; Staples 2006, 22-63). There is also detailed documentation on the decision in the late 1940s and early 1950s to privilege infrastructure projects over social programs (Alacevich 2009, 2011; Kedar 2010). While this overview shows that research on the World Bank is quite extensive, we have to emphasize that only some of it is historical in nature, and that very few studies deal with agricultural and rural issues.

The case study on agrarian and rural development doctrines of the World Bank serves as a “bridge” project. It allows us to analyze dominant doctrines and practices, and it functions as a transmitter of knowledge within the project at large. The study focuses on governance and the transfer of knowledge from Washington to the so-called Third World. The study on the Office du Niger presents a complementing view on these processes by highlighting the social effects of the policies whose formulation the World Bank heavily influenced.

The World Bank study centers on four fields: First, it focuses on World Bank staff like Wolf Ladejinsky (1950s), John C. de Wilde (1960s), economists like Simon Aldewereld (1950s and 1960s) and Hollis Chenery (1970s), and president Robert S. McNamara (1968-1981). Second, it takes into view the departments for rural development, their institutional development, their goals and visions. Third, for the period of time starting in the 1980s, the Bank’s annual Development Reports as well as other publications on rural and agrarian topics will be analyzed, including the reactions of the expert community and the international public. Finally, the study will look into a number of projects funded by the World Bank that are illustrative of its rural development doctrines.