by Kanayo F. Nwanze
On 6 December 2010, at 11:00GMT at the opening of a major international conference on food security convened by Chatham House IFAD will launch the Rural Poverty Report 2011.
Just think, what would your life be like if you were one of the 1.4 billion women, men and children who live in extreme poverty? Chances are you would live in a rural area, as 70 per cent of the world’s extremely poor people do.
Like Pascaline Bampoky from Senegal, you wouldn’t have had much of an opportunity to study, you would be farming rice, raising pigs, selling ice cream and cleaning houses – all in a day’s work to feed your family.
Like Shazia Bibi from Pakistan, you might wonder if your garlic will compete at the market with lower priced imports and whether your profits will cover the costs of your children’s education and treatment for your heart condition.
And if you are a young man like Williams Novoa Lizardo in Peru, you might lose hope of making a living where you were born and consider migrating to a city to find work.
The good news, according to the Rural Poverty Report 2011 issued by IFAD, is that over the last ten years more than 350 million rural people have pulled themselves out of extreme poverty. During this time, the percentage of the world’s rural inhabitants living on less than US$1.25 a day has dropped from nearly half to about one-third.
Accounting for much of the progress has been East Asia, and particularly China, where the number of extremely poor people in rural areas fell by two-thirds – from 365 million to 117 million – as did the rate of extreme poverty, which went from 44 to 15 per cent.
There was also good progress in both Latin America and the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, where extreme poverty rates in rural areas fell by about half over the past decade.
But, this progress notwithstanding, the problem remains a pervasive one, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the rate of rural poverty has fallen slightly in the last decade but is still above 60 per cent, and in South Asia, which is home to half of the world’s one billion extremely poor rural people.
Just as these statistics tell a story of uneven progress in reducing rural poverty, changes that are underway in rural areas are giving rise to both challenges and new hope for rural people in their struggle for a better life.
The challenges include increasingly volatile food prices, which complicate life for rural people both as producers and buyers of food. And there are other emerging threats such as the deterioration of the natural resource base, growing competition for land and water, and the potential harm that climate change can cause to the rural landscape.
But good things are happening, as well. As cities expand and the world becomes more urbanized, there is a growing demand for high value food, and accordingly agricultural markets are expanding and becoming better organized. Supermarkets, for example, have grown rapidly across much of the developing world, and in some parts of Latin America they typically account for 60 per cent or more of retail food sales. To be sure, modern markets and value chains bring with them their own challenges for some smallholder farmers in terms of higher entry costs, but the potential opportunities they also bring cannot be overlooked.
And while agriculture continues to be a key driver of rural growth – four-fifths of rural households worldwide are engaged in farming at some level – technological advancements and changes in the global economy are also creating non-farm jobs and development in rural areas. The potential for growth is further enhanced by the search for renewable energy sources that is ramping up around the world.
All of this means opportunity for greater numbers of poor rural women and men to lift themselves out of poverty and create a better life and a future for themselves and their children. But making the most of it requires an overall policy and investment approach that is, at the same time, both market-oriented and environmentally sustainable.
For starters, national governments and the international community need to reverse the longstanding neglect of rural development. We need to improve governance in rural areas and create a better economic environment for smallholder farmers to succeed and grow not only food but their businesses as well.
We need to invest in rural infrastructure and in the education and skills of rural people so that they themselves can make the most of new opportunities to engage in agricultural markets or work in non-farm industries. We need to strengthen their collective capabilities so that they can support each other in managing the risks they face, learn new techniques for improving their productivity, and market their products.
Above all, we need to stop treating the rural poor as charity cases and truly recognize that they are people whose innovation, dynamism and hard work will ultimately lead the way out of poverty’s darkness and into the bright sunshine of growth, development and prosperity.
Nothing less than global food security hangs in the balance. The experts say that agricultural production will have to increase 70 per cent by 2050 – and output in developing countries will have to double – in order to feed the world’s growing global population, expected to reach nine billion by then.
I have no doubt that Pascaline, Shazia and Williams are up to the challenge. Are the rest of us?
On 6 December at 11:00GMT you may download the English version of the Rural Poverty Report 2011 at http://www.ifad.org/rpr2011/report
Meet the women and men from rural areas whose thoughts and perspectives were influential in the preparation of theRural Poverty Report 2011 Read testimonies and watch the video testimonials