UNITED NATIONS - The Rome-based International Fund
Agricultural Development (IFAD) warned Monday that a global
commitment to cut
poverty by 50 percent by the year 2015 is bound to fail because it
marginalised the world's rural poor.
''The failure stems in large part from a misconception that the
problem has moved from the countryside to the burgeoning
megacities of the
developing world,'' says IFAD President Fawzi Hamad Al-Sultan.
Seventy-five percent of the world's poorest people, he points out,
rural areas, most of whom make their living in farming or farm
labour. As this
figure is expected to drop only to about 60 percent by 2020, a
focus on rural
poverty and agricultural development is crucial to the reduction
overall, he argues.
At a Millennium Summit of world leaders last September, 100 heads
of state and
48 heads of government pledged to halve, by the year 2015, the
the world's people living in abject poverty, and the proportion of
suffer from hunger.
But according to current UN estimates, the poorest of the world's
poor - about
1.3 billion people living on less than a dollar a day - is
expected to keep
growing. By the next decade, the number of people living in
even rise to about 1.5 billion out of a global population of more
billion people. And by 2015, the UN predicts, the number could
higher, to 1.9 billion - provided there are no concerted efforts
In a foreword to a new 266-page report titled 'Rural Poverty
released Monday, Al-Sultan points out that one of the key reasons
projected failure is the marginalisation of the rural poor and the
''The declining support for agriculture is extremely damaging to
reduce poverty and hunger,'' he says, adding that the rural poor
primarily on agriculture and related activities for their
It would seem natural, he says, that to have a substantial effect
domestic investment and external assistance alike should focus on
the basis of their survival, and on rural areas where the poor
''But the poor and the rural rarely have the same voice in
the better-off and the urban,'' he notes.
The IFAD president also points out that official development
going to agriculture has fallen, from about 20 percent in the late
about 12 percent today. Assistance to agriculture from
institutions has followed a similar path.
According to IFAD, the extremely poor spend almost three-quarters
income on food. They receive over two-thirds of their calories
earn perhaps half of their income from growing them. ''So the
farmland by the poor tends to be a safeguard against poverty,''
Al-Sultan points out that during the 1970s and most of the 1980s,
yields rose sharply and poverty declined rapidly. But in the
1990s, on the
other hand, food staple yield growth slowed down substantially, as
of poverty decline.
''This neglect of agriculture, in terms of both international
co-operation and domestic resource allocation, must be redressed
if we hope to
achieve the challenging poverty targets of the Millennium
Summit,'' he adds.
Cutting world poverty in half requires a focus on reviving
development and responding to the needs of rural populations.
But improving the welfare of the rural poor depends on their
through access to productive resources - such as land, water,
technology and capital - in order to seize opportunities in the
According to IFAD, allocating resources to the rural and the poor
compromise economic growth. Since the economies of developing
their labour supplies are overwhelmingly dependent on the
such investments can only accelerate growth.
''Underlying all these themes is the fact that labour-intensive
especially appropriate to rural poverty reduction,'' says Al-
is always scarce in low-income countries. Developing countries
of labour to capital. Therefore, they can gain more from market
if they encourage labour-intensive production.''
Since poverty has many dimensions, says the report, efforts to
reduce it must
be multi-targeted. The report details four dimensions of poverty
that it says
are of critical importance for understanding the challenges facing
First, food staples retain a critical role in the livelihoods of
who spend most of their time growing them. Second, reducing rural
requires better allocation and distribution of water to the rural
350 million rural poor live in dryland areas already suffering
Third, achieving the poverty reduction target requires a conscious
increase the share of the rural poor in resources. Fourth,
especially women, merit special attention. Poor rural women and
girls need to
be targeted by policies, as they constitute the majority of the
whose poverty is often reinforced through cultural and/or legal
Copyright 2001 IPS