Many living in rural areas have been lifted out of poverty in recent decades. In 1990, 54% of those living in rural areas in developing countries lived on less than $1.25 a day and were considered extremely poor. By 2010, this share had dropped to 35%. Rural poverty remains widespread especially in South Asia and Africa. These regions have also seen least progress in improving rural livelihoods.
Bringing more people out of rural poverty is not only an imperative of human dignity and a necessity for sustainable food security; it is also good economics. Successful economic development anywhere, typically has been propelled in its initial stages by fast agricultural productivity growth and broader rural development.
Who are the rural poor?
Many of the rural poor are subsistence producers, family farmers or landless agricultural workers. They include fisherfolk, pastoralists, and forest-dependent peoples with limited access to productive means.
Rural families also increasingly depend on non-farm incomes, which is a way out of poverty when the rural economy is thriving. However, when infrastructure and basic services are poor, credit is difficult to get and institutions are weak, poverty will be most prevalent among those running small rural enterprises and non-farm wage earners and their families.
Without social protection, people with disabilities and the elderly also are likely to be among the rural poor. Rural women and members of female-headed households tend to have more limited access to productive resources, making their livelihoods more vulnerable.
What are the challenges?
Typically, rural poverty reduction has been achieved in contexts of rapid economic growth. But economic growth is no panacea. Rural poverty has persisted where policies paid insufficient attention to improving agricultural productivity and rural infrastructure and failed to provide rural populations with access to social services and social protection or facilitate the development of rural producer and consumer organizations. Failing to improve women’s access to productive resources and social services further perpetuates rural poverty.
Climate change, other environmental threats and population growth and migration are putting disproportionate pressure on livelihoods in rural areas where poverty is already entrenched and people have the least resilience. Challenging as this may be, sound management of natural resources and ecosystems need to go hand in hand with efforts to reduce poverty.
FAO’s priorities in achieving this Strategic Objective
There are no silver bullets or quick fixes. Just focusing on improving crop or livestock production will not suffice either for food security or for rural poverty reduction. Instead, a broader policy approach is needed that seeks to dynamize and diversify the rural economy at large.
FAO and its partners will combine all of their expertise to support member states in strengthening their capacity to:
- define a coherent approach to rural poverty reduction in the context of a broader strategy for sustainable rural development;
- strengthen rural institutions, local producer and community organizations and the sustainable use and management of natural resources;
- reduce inequalities in access to productive resources and social services and gender inequalities in particular;
- implement programmes and policies that promote the generation of decent farm and non-farm employment opportunities for men, women and youth; and
- design social protection programmes that effectively reduce income and food insecurity among rural populations, while providing stimulus to the rural economy, empowering women, and enhancing the capacity of the rural poor and the most vulnerable to invest in their future and the sustainable use of resources.