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Mixed progress but also new hope in reducing rural poverty

By Kanayo Nwanze - posted Wednesday, 6 April 2011

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 do 70 per cent of the world’s extremely poor people.

Like Li Guimin from China, you would worry about the exodus of young people from your community as they seek opportunities – but likely face worse poverty – in distant cities.


Like Shazia Bibi from Pakistan, you might wonder if your garlic can compete at the market with lower priced imports and whether you will earn enough to pay your children’s school fees and buy your heart medicine.

And like Ribita Iobete, a farmer in Kiribati, you would be concerned about the shrinking size of your coconuts due to intrusions of seawater – an ominous repercussion of climate change in a country where ‘high ground’ is just two metres above sea level.

But there is good news, and it is being discussed at meetings in Canberra this week. A new report issued by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) reveals that more than 350 million rural people have pulled themselves out of extreme poverty over the last 10 years. 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.

East Asia has accounted for much of the progress. Standouts are China and other emerging economies such as Viet Nam, where the number of extremely poor people in rural areas fell by two thirds – from 365 million to 117 million. So did the rate of extreme poverty, which declined from 44 to 15 per cent.

But despite this progress, poverty remains pervasive, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Though its rate of rural poverty has fallen slightly in the last decade, it is still above 60 per cent. And not far from Australia’s own shores, South Asia is home to half of the world’s one billion extremely poor rural people.

Yet change is under way in rural areas, giving rise to hope while also exposing challenges.


These include increasingly volatile food prices, which complicate life for rural people as both producers and buyers of food. Other emerging threats include deterioration of natural resources, growing competition for land and water, and – as Australians know only too well – increasingly severe weather events worsened by climate change.

But good things are happening too. As cities expand and the world becomes more urbanised, the demand for high-value food is growing, expanding markets for farmers.

And while agriculture continues to drive rural growth – engaging four-fifths of rural households worldwide at some level – technological advancements and changes in the global economy are also creating jobs off the farm. The accelerating search for renewable energy sources around the world only increases the potential for growth.

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About the Author

Kanayo Nwanze is President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), an international financial institution and a specialized UN agency that works with poor rural people to enable them to grow and sell more food, increase their incomes and determine the direction of their own lives.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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