December 7, 2010

Reducing Rural Poverty Among the Poorest of the Poor

From the Introduction....

Between 2006 and 2008, international food prices doubled. The effects of the price surge reverberated globally, though the worst hit were low-income, food-deficit countries with meagre stocks. In total, about 100 million poor rural and urban people were pushed into the ranks of the world’s hungry. While international food prices have declined since mid-2008, they are still substantially higher than prior to the price surge, and they are likely to remain at 2010 levels or higher for the next decade. To date, much of the production response to higher prices has come from rich countries. Looking to the future, however, it is calculated that feeding a global population of just over 9 billion in 2050 will require a 70 per cent increase in global food production, while ensuring food security for all will demand that issues of access and affordability are also addressed. This will require that agriculture – particularly smallholder agriculture – play a much more effective role in these countries, and that greater and more effective efforts are made to address the concerns of poor rural people as food buyers.
The population of the developing world is still more rural than urban: some 3.1 billion people, or 55 per cent of the total population, live in rural areas. However between 2020 and 2025, the total rural population will peak and then start to decline, and the developing world’s urban population will overtake its rural population. In Latin America and the Caribbean, and in East and South East Asia, the number of rural people is already in decline. Elsewhere, the growth of rural populations is slowing. Numbers will start to decline around 2025 in the Middle East and North Africa and in South and Central Asia, and around 2045 in sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite massive progress in reducing poverty in some parts of the world over the past couple of decades – notably in East Asia – there are still about 1.4 billion people living on less than US$1.25 a day, and close to 1 billion people suffering from hunger.  At least 70 per cent of the world’s very poor people are rural, and a large proportion of the poor and hungry are children and young people. Neither of these facts is likely to change in the immediate future, despite widespread urbanization and demographic changes in all regions. South Asia, with the greatest number of poor rural people, and sub-Saharan Africa, with the highest incidence of rural poverty, are the regions worst affected by poverty and hunger. Levels of poverty vary considerably however, not just across regions and countries, but also within countries.
In order to broaden the opportunities for rural poverty reduction and economic growth, there is need for a broad approach to rural growth and emphasis on the larger rural non-farm economy.  A focus on these two areas – smallholder agriculture and the rural non-farm economy – requires particular attention to, and increasing investment in, four issues:

Improving the overall environment of rural areas to make them places where people can find greater opportunities and face fewer risks, and where rural youth can build a future. Greater investment and attention are needed in infrastructure and utilities: particularly roads, electricity, water supply and renewable energy.  Also important are rural services, including education, health care, financial services, communication and information and communication technology services. Good governance too is critical to the success of all efforts to promote rural growth and reduce poverty, including developing a more sustainable approach to agricultural intensification.

Reducing the level of risk that poor rural people face and helping them to improve their risk management capacity needs to become a central, cross-cutting element within a pro-poor rural development agenda. It needs to drive support both to agriculture – and sustainable intensification reflects this concern – and to the rural non-farm economy. It involves developing or stimulating the market to provide new risk-reducing technologies and services for smallholders and poor rural people. It requires an expansion of social protection, and it needs to strengthen the individual and collective capabilities of rural women, men and youth.

Advancing individual capabilities needs far more attention in the rural development agenda. Productivity, dynamism and innovation in the rural economy depends on there being a skilled, educated population. Rural women, men, youth and children all need to develop the skills and knowledge to take advantage of new economic opportunities in agriculture, in the rural non-farm economy, or in the job market beyond the rural areas. Investment is particularly needed in post-primary education, in technical and vocational skills development, and in reoriented higher education institutes for agriculture.

Strengthening the collective capabilities of rural people can give them the confidence, security and power to overcome poverty. Membership-based organizations have a key role to play in helping rural people reduce risk, learn new techniques and skills, manage individual and collective assets, and market their produce. They also negotiate the interests of people in their interactions with the private sector or government, and can help to hold them accountable. Many organizations have problems of governance, management or representation, and yet they usually represent the interests of poor rural people better than any outside party can. They need strengthening to become more effective, and more space needs to be made for them to influence policy.

In the aftermath of the food crisis, the international donor community has taken a number of initiatives to support developing countries’ efforts to promote smallholder agriculture. It has also signalled a commitment to support developing countries’ efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. But investment in agriculture and the rural non-farm economy remains well below needed levels, and the momentum of these recent initiatives must be maintained. The proposed agenda in this report responds to the growing international concerns, while offering up ideas for concrete initiatives. Increasing investments in the areas highlighted in this report – some of which have been badly neglected in recent years – can support the piloting of new approaches and ways of working as a route for learning, promoting policy analysis and reform, and financing the scaling up of successful small-scale initiatives.
In addition, many developing and recently developed countries have grappled with the issues addressed in this report. There is, therefore, enormous scope for increased levels of knowledge-sharing between developing countries.
There are today approximately one billion poor rural people in the world. Yet there are good reasons for hope that rural poverty can be reduced substantially, if new opportunities for rural growth are nurtured, and the risk environment improved. This report identifies an agenda for action around a broad approach to rural growth, which needs to be appropriated and adapted to different countries’ needs and local contexts. However, the report also makes it clear that implementing this agenda requires ‘joined-up’ government across different ministries, and a breaking down of some traditional distinctions between social and economic policies and programmes. It also requires a collective effort, including new partnerships and accountabilities, and new ways of working between governments, the private sector, civil society and rural people’s organizations, with the international development community playing a supporting or facilitating role as needed. If all of these stakeholders want it enough, rural poverty can be substantially reduced. What is at stake is not only improving the present for one billion rural people and the prospects for food security for all, but also the rural world and the opportunities within it that tomorrow’s rural generation will inherit.

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