Making progress: The state of rural poverty today
The Rural Poverty Report 2011, a comprehensive study on the state of rural poverty around the world, presented by IFAD in December 2010, shows:
General situation and findings of the report
Despite massive progress over the past two decades in reducing poverty in some parts of the world – notably 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. 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. The livelihoods of poor rural households are diverse across regions and countries, and within countries. Livelihoods are derived, to varying degrees, from smallholder farming – including livestock production and artisanal fisheries – agricultural wage labour, wage or self-employment in the rural non-farm economy and migration. While some households rely primarily on one type of activity, most seek to diversify their livelihood base as a way to reduce risk. Agriculture plays a vital role in most countries, and typically it is the poorest households that rely most on farming and agricultural labour. Non-farm income sources are increasingly important across regions, and income gains at the household level are generally associated with a shift towards more non-agricultural wages and self-employment income.
“The report makes clear that it is time to look at poor smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs in a completely new way – not as charity cases but as people whose innovation, dynamism and hard work will bring prosperity to their communities and greater food security to the world in the decades ahead,” said Kanayo F. Nwanze, IFAD’s President. “We need to focus on creating an enabling environment for rural women and men to overcome the risks and challenges they face as they work to make their farms and other businesses successful,” he said.
Significant Gains in Many Areas but Challenges remain
In addition to the overall decline of extreme poverty in rural areas of developing countries, the Rural Poverty Report 2011 points to other significant gains, most notably:
Jiaur Rahman harvests grass for animal feed for his dairy cows in Birani Bazaar, Bangladesh.
- A drop in the overall poverty rate of US$2 a day in rural areas, from 79 per cent to 61 per cent over the past decade.
- Remarkable progress in rural areas of East Asia – primarily China – where the number of extreme poor fell by about two-thirds over the past decade, from 365 million to 117 million, as did the rate of extreme poverty, which fell from 44 to 15 per cent.
- Improvements in other regions, with the extreme rural poverty rate falling by more than half in Latin America and by nearly half in the Middle East and North Africa. In both regions, the number of rural people who live in extreme poverty dropped significantly, as well.
Notwithstanding these gains, the report makes clear that rural poverty continues to be a massive phenomenon throughout much of the developing world, and that it is particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia:
- Sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly a third of the world’s extremely poor rural people, whose numbers swelled from 268 million to 306 million over the past decade. While Sub-Saharan Africa’s rate of extreme poverty in rural areas declined from 65 to 62 per cent, it remains by far the highest of any region.
- Rural poverty rates have dropped only slightly in the last decade in South Asia, which now has the largest number of poor rural people – about 500 million – of any region or sub-region. Four-fifths of all extremely poor people in South Asia live in rural areas.
The report cites the consequences of climate change – which will make agricultural production more difficult in many places – as complicating the challenges of addressing rural poverty in these regions and globally.
It also points to the key role of women farmers, who produce most of the food that is consumed locally in rural areas, and the need to address their inadequate access to land tenure, credit, equipment and market opportunities.
In addition, the report says “low levels of investment in agriculture, weak rural infrastructure, inadequate production and financial services, and a deteriorating natural resource base” – particularly land and water and growing competition for their use – are creating an environment which makes it too risky and unprofitable for most of the developing world’s smallholder farmers to participate in agricultural markets.