IFAD and International organisations and agencies reaffirm the need to devote more attention to the rural sector in Latin America and the Caribbean

By Salvador Santiesteban

On 9 October 2017 IFAD  met with other United Nations agencies and international financial organisations and institutions at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo in Mendoza, Argentina. Discussions revolved around the new paradigms that are reconfiguring rural areas in Latin America and the Caribbean, and participants reaffirmed the urgent need to devote more attention to the rural sector.  

The seminar was inaugurated by the Governor of Mendoza, Alfredo Cornejo, whose words of welcome emphasised "the need for more specific and intelligent interventions by public and private agencies and, therefore, the tremendous benefit of everything that has been done, and that can be done, in partnership with IFAD."

The event was particularly relevant to a region such as Latin America where, despite considerable economic growth in the last decade, 175 million inhabitants continue to live in poverty and another 70 million suffer from extreme poverty. One out of every two Latin Americans living in rural areas is poor. While the rate of poverty in Latin American cities is 24 per cent, in rural areas this rate almost doubles to 46 per cent. The dramatic impacts of rural poverty are, furthermore, practically invisible.
"In spite of these challenges, Latin America as a region invests less, proportionally, in the agricultural sector. During this meeting, IFAD and its partners reiterated the need to reverse this trend and devote more attention to the rural sector", commented Joaquín Lozano, Director of IFAD’s Latin America and the Caribbean Division. "We are facing a decisive moment for agriculture and in the fight against rural poverty, and this within the context of a critical moment for rural development in Latin American and Caribbean countries", added Lozano.

During the seminar the need was also emphasised to transform the narrative that is currently marginalising rural areas by taking advantage of the opportunities arising from the urbanisation process to strengthen the links between urban and rural areas. Daniel Pizzi, President of the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, commented on this by highlighting the need to examine the development of rurality and all its cross-cutting elements, "which include not only agriculture, but also infrastructure, climate change and social organisation, among other issues."

Hugo Beteta, Director of the Subregional Headquarters for Mexico of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) highlighted the significant gaps that are most often eclipsed by general statistical averages; therefore, he recommended that all of IFAD’s strategies include an inequality-based approach. In Beteta’s opinion, "the place, gender, ethnicity and class into which a person is born determine to a great extent their fate. In fact, in Latin America, a person’s origin is their destiny."

Inequality and exclusion were the focus of a significant part of the discussions. After highlighting the solid working relationship between IFAD and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Julio Berdegué, FAO’s Deputy Director General and Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, affirmed that the region has lost ground in rural poverty reduction in recent years, with only five countries remaining consistent in their indicators. Berdegué highlighted that the percentage of rural poor people who are destitute has increased from 50 per cent to 61 per cent in recent years. He therefore believes that persistent poverty is not so much an issue of deficiencies as it is one of social exclusion, an exclusion that, in the words of Ana Touza, Regional Adviser for the World Food Programme (WFP), has the face of a woman and is rural, indigenous, landless, without access to education and vulnerable to food insecurity.

According to Edith Obschatko, Agricultural Policy Specialist from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the current definition of the rural population is too simplistic, and she highlighted that rurality is an essential part of each country’s identity. This observation becomes especially relevant at a time when the international community, and donors in particular, are giving greater attention to low-income countries, in spite of the fact that 72 per cent of the world’s poor live in middle-income countries. In this sense, Héctor Bravo, Chief of Staff of Chile’s Agricultural Development Institute (INDAP) highlighted the importance of targeting small-scale producers among native populations, and within a framework that includes municipalities, to implement programmes that are committed to reducing rural poverty.

In the case of Argentina, one of the world’s main food exporters, one third of its 3.5 million rural inhabitants are poor. Although the Government has made reducing poverty one of its priorities, and significant progress has been made, poverty continues to be especially severe in indigenous communities and it forces many rural young people to migrate. Aylen Azzaro, a participant in the Inclusive Rural Development Programme (PRODERI), financed by IFAD and implemented by the Unit for Rural Change (UCAR), noted the challenges that many inhabitants of rural areas still face in accessing water.

In his closing words, Mendoza’s Minister of Economy, Infrastructure and Energy, Martín Kerchner, emphasised that it is critical that all actors involved in rural development have a very clear path to fulfil their mandate.

In the second part of the seminar, Promoting and Financing Inclusive Rural Transformation, the principal international development financial institutions compared their respective definitions of the rural sector, the type of agriculture that they promote, and their different financial strategies. They also examined changes in the demand and supply of financial products to evaluate the efficacy of current instruments and identify innovations.