• World Development Report 2008;
  • NGOs;
  • rural labour markets;
  • agriculture;
  • hegemony;
  • ActionAid;
  • Oxfam

This paper analyzes the response by NGOs to the 2008 World Development Report (WDR08). It does so at two levels of analysis, which in turn reflect two possible ways of reading the WDR08. The first is to read the WDR08 as a document for policy guidance on ‘agriculture for development’. In this respect the paper shows how NGOs expose and challenge the WDR08's optimism for the benign impact of unregulated agribusiness investment on poverty reduction, and put forward a convincing alternative. The second, and politically more fertile, way of reading the WDR08 is to make sense of its numerous internal contradictions. These contradictions are functional to the World Bank's hegemonic effort of establishing a common, and broader, agenda for rural development. Having highlighted the WDR08's incoherent messages on (i) rural labour markets and their role in poverty reduction and (ii) what constitutes the most promising driver of poverty reduction in agriculture (returns from wage labour vs from own account farming), the paper documents NGOs’ failure to detect and politically exploit these contradictions.