By Josefina Stubbs
On a recent mission to Mexico in which we launched a wonderfully detailed and incisive report by the RIMISP – Latin American Center for Rural Development on inequality and territorial gaps across the region, I was talking with a Senator from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, Heladio Ramírez López, about our dreams, responsibilities – and yes even our deficiencies – when it comes to rural empowerment, social inclusion, targeting and policy dialogue.
“IFAD allows us to dream,” the senator told me.
I couldn’t agree with him more. But, while we need to dare to dream, we also need to dare to innovate, target and drive territorial development approaches that reach the poorest sectors of Latin America, and drive new policies and initiatives that will ensure continued, responsible and sustainable rural poverty reduction across the region well into the 21st century.
While we’ve taken important steps in reducing poverty in Latin America, surprising – and at times astounding – territorial gaps remain. To begin with, Latin America still has the highest inequality in the world. And within large middle-income countries like Brazil and Mexico, you’ll see socio-economic gaps that are as pronounced as those that exist between the richest and poorest countries in the world.
In Mexico for instance, nearly 60 per cent of the nation’s extreme poverty is concentrated in rural areas, according to the new “Poverty and Inequality 2011: Latin America Report,” and the rural illiteracy rate is 15.6 per cent, while it’s only 4.3 per cent in urban areas. Latin America’s poorest rural territories also have limited access to healthcare. The report – made possible through funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Development Research Centre - Canada (IDRC) – highlights the causes of extreme inequality, territorial achievement gaps and lack of opportunities in Latin America’s rural sector, analysing socio-economic indicators in health, education, economic dynamism and employment, income and poverty, citizen security, and gender equality from 10 Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.
The dream for dialogue
One of the first steps in “dreaming this impossible dream” is to look toward policy dialogue as a catalyst for change. In Latin America, IFAD is actively funding policy dialogue platforms to ensure farmers, politicians, intellectuals and business leaders are given the forums and tools to engage, debate and advance smart policies that will benefit poor rural people.
Looking at the data from Mexico, I see that despite strenuous efforts poverty and inequality in rural Mexico have increased. Just look at Mexico’s ten richest municipalities, where the average per capita earnings are around US$32,000. Head to the poorest municipalities, and you will see earnings of just US$603 per year.
One of the first steps in counteracting this phenomenon is to support policy dialogue platforms. The ‘Knowledge for Change’ Rural Dialogue Groups are bringing key stakeholders together to discuss rural development issues and push them to the top of national agendas. The Rural Dialogue Groups program is working in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Mexico, and is starting to yield results. One need only look at the pro-active dialogue we had recently in the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where leading academics and thinkers converged to launch the new publication and discuss new ways forward.
The dream for social inclusion
The lessons we are taking from the data and analysis of the Latin America Report are helping us to form a new generation of projects that seek to remedy the variegated territorial gaps we are seeing in the region. In the case of Mexico, IFAD’s executive board recently approved the US$47.5 million Rural Development Project in the Mixteca Region and the Mazahua Zone. One of the project’s central goals is to improve the quality of life in the target area by strengthening the social inclusion mechanisms for local rural development institutions. An investment in building the capacity of these institutions is not just an investment in the rural people living in this oft-overlooked part of Mexico – projections point to a US$6.30 increase in daily earnings for project participants – it is also an investment in the very social fabric that inter-threads every aspect of rural life in Mexico, working to promote lasting systems, capacities and mechanisms for long-term peace and sustainability.
One thing my 20-plus years in rural development has taught me is that there’s no silver bullet for poverty reduction. And projects need to be scoped, designed and targeted to meet the local context. In Colombia, we are scaling up our work with a new national project recently approved by IFAD’s Executive Board that will invest directly in local capacity building for businesses. The US$70 million “Trust and Opportunity Project” will reach some 160,000 families. “The project looks to improve food security, facilitate access to financial and community services, improve the competitiveness and incomes of small-share producers in the zone, and create mechanisms to include these very producers in the systems of government,” says our Country Program Manager for Colombia, Roberto Haudry.
Further south, the Inclusive Paraguay Project works to create public-private alliances that will facilitate access to specialized technical assistance and markets, create new jobs, and close territorial gaps. Interestingly enough, Paraguay’s economy grew by 14.5 per cent in 2010. Nevertheless, 1.3 million rural Paraguayans are considered poor, of which around 60 per cent are considered extremely poor. As we saw in Mexico, these territorial gaps become more pronounced in indigenous communities, which have a mortality rate three times higher than the national average.
The dream for a greener future
Many of the new projects funded by IFAD in Latin America are looking toward community forestry, climate-change mitigation and adaptation, and sustainable natural resource management as a mechanism for poverty reduction and rural empowerment. In this edition of Rural Perspectives we examine these mechanisms in-depth.
No matter how you shape it, the future of IFAD funding for Latin America must move toward ever-greener pastures, improved discourse and dialogue, smarter market access and value-chain strengthening, and differentiated territorial approaches that take into account the nuanced differences between territories, societies, economic corridors and local economies.
Check out the latest articles from the new edition of Rural Perspectives.
Environmental governance and agro-ecological systems in Mexico
Carlos Edgar González Godoy is the Director of the IFAD-funded Sustainable Development Project for Rural and Indigenous Communities of the Semi-Arid North-West of Mexico (PRODESNOS)...
Integrated farms, green value chains, environmental governance – The Honduran experience with Victoria Flores Aguilar
How can we create and implement sustainable agricultural systems that benefit the rural poor? How can we strengthen value chains in a sustainable and green manner? How do we define environmental governance, and how can we insert small farmers in environmental payment programs, such as REDD+? In this revealing interview,Victoria Flores Aguilar, Honduran expert on community forestry, REDD+ and agro-ecology, highlights the road ahead, where we are at today, and the challenges and threats facing us along the way.
Protecting Mother Earth in Bolivia
In Bolivia's high valleys and Chaco region – a remote corner of the world where reverence and respect for Pachamama (Mother Earth) is an integral part of everyday life – climate change and land degradation are making family farming a very risky business.