The World Bank Board approved a US$3.2 million grant to strengthen the rural economy of the Solomon Islands and thus increasing access for rural communities for infrastructure and services.

The Rural Development Project (RDP) is the first phase of the implementation of the Solomon Islands Agricultural and Rural Development Strategy which was launched in April of this year and which aims to promote growth, create jobs and to increase incomes in rural communities using a community-driven approach.

The RDP will support the Solomon Islands Government's national rural development goals and will focus both on institution building and stimulating rural growth. It includes four components: a) local infrastructure and service delivery; b) improved agricultural services; c) rural business development and d) program management.

World Bank Country Director for the Pacific Islands, Nigel Roberts, said the project will provide rural households with agricultural advice, a broad range of community infrastructure and support for small businesses.

"Close consultation and the empowerment of local communities in decision-making are important features of the project, as is the creation of strong partnerships between the central Government, provincial governments, local communities and NGOs," Mr. Roberts said.

He pointed out that eighty-four per cent of Solomon Islanders live in rural areas with little access to public services or basic infrastructure.

The RDP, initially, will be carried out in the provinces of Choiseul, Western, Malaita and Temotu, and will later be scaled up to cover all provinces of the Solomon Islands.

The first phase of the project will cover five years (2008 - 2011), with plans for a second phase to cover a further five years.

In addition to the World Bank IDA grant, the program will be financed with grants from the European Commission, AusAID and the Government of the Solomon Islands, totaling USD 22 million.