Refugees and ru­ral poverty

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

While the grow­ing de­mand for food – driven by ris­ing pop­u­la­tion and in­comes – is cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for ru­ral peo­ple, hunger and poverty re­main con­cen­trated in ru­ral parts of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Un­less ru­ral de­vel­op­ment receives more at­ten­tion, young peo­ple will con­tinue to aban­don agri­cul­ture and ru­ral ar­eas in search of bet­ter liveli­hoods in cities or abroad.

Last year at the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly, world lead­ers adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment and the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGs), which in­clude a com­mit­ment to “leave no one be­hind.” And, with the num­ber of forcibly dis­placed peo­ple reach­ing all-time highs this year, the UN will hold a sum­mit on Septem­ber 19 to dis­cuss the prob­lem.

But no ef­fort to ad­dress the is­sues sur­round­ing the global surge in mi­grants and refugees will suc­ceed un­less it specif­i­cally tar­gets the plight of the world’s ru­ral poor.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, in 1990, some 37% of peo­ple in de­vel­op­ing re­gions lived on less than $1.90 a day. By 2012, 12.7% did, amount­ing to more than one bil­lion peo­ple ris­ing out of ex­treme poverty. And yet, inequal­ity be­tween ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas has in­creased. To­day, three-quar­ters of the world’s poor­est and hun­gri­est peo­ple live in ru­ral ar­eas.

Small farms sup­port 2.5 bil­lion peo­ple world­wide, ac­count­ing for up to 80% of food pro­duced in Asia and Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. But most small­holder farm­ers still op­er­ate with­out many of the ba­sic con­di­tions needed to grow their busi­nesses and in­vest in their com­mu­ni­ties, such as fi­nance, in­fra­struc­ture, mar­ket ac­cess, se­cure land own­er­ship, and rights to re­sources.

This means that ef­forts to trans­form ru­ral ar­eas must tar­get these in­sti­tu­tional fac­tors (along with im­prov­ing gen­der equal­ity and safe­guard­ing the rule of law), while also in­tro­duc­ing new tech­nolo­gies to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. And, most im­por­tant, ru­ral peo­ple them­selves must be in­volved, not only as stake­hold­ers or ben­e­fi­cia­ries of aid, but as part­ners.

Two new stud­ies pro­vide im­por­tant per­spec­tives on the chal­lenge of re­duc­ing poverty, hunger, and inequal­ity world­wide. The In­ter­na­tional Fund for Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment’s (IFAD) Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Re­port, to be launched on Septem­ber 14, com­piles new re­search for pol­i­cy­mak­ers and oth­ers work­ing to erad­i­cate poverty. Lead­ing thinkers an­a­lysed ru­ral-de­vel­op­ment ef­forts in more than 60 de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, draw­ing con­clu­sions about what does and doesn’t work.

One cen­tral find­ing is that de­vel­op­ment fo­cused specif­i­cally on ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties has a ma­jor pos­i­tive im­pact on in­comes, se­cu­rity, and food and nu­tri­tion. And these qual­ity-of-life im­prove­ments then trans­late into bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion, health care, and other crit­i­cal ser­vices. At the same time, these gains have not been evenly dis­trib­uted, and Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa has seen far less progress than other ar­eas.

The se­cond study, funded by IFAD and re­cently re­leased by the In­ter­na­tional Food Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute, ex­am­ines the world­wide eco­nomic down­turn start­ing in 2012 in the con­text of ru­ral pop­u­la­tions. It finds that as a re­sult of the down­turn, 38 mil­lion more peo­ple will re­main in ex­treme poverty in 2030 than likely would have oth­er­wise, with farm house­holds in mid­dlein­come coun­tries par­tic­u­larly at risk.

This poses a se­ri­ous chal­lenge for the SDGs to end poverty “in all its forms ev­ery­where,” and it strength­ens the case for poli­cies and in­vest­ments specif­i­cally tar­get­ing ru­ral ar­eas, which is where pover­tyre­duc­tion mea­sures are needed more and will have a larger im­pact.

Ru­ral ar­eas’ progress so far re­veals their fu­ture po­ten­tial. In many cases, their economies have diver­si­fied and be­come more dy­namic, and new roads and com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works have re­duced the phys­i­cal and cul­tural dis­tance be­tween ru­ral and ur­ban res­i­dents. In small towns and vil­lages, new types of so­ci­eties are evolv­ing wherein agri­cul­ture, while still im­por­tant, is no longer the only thing that de­fines eco­nomic and cul­tural life.

It is time to look at de­vel­op­ment more holis­ti­cally, ac­knowl­edg­ing that ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and ur­ban de­vel­op­ment are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive – each needs the other. If we ne­glect ru­ral ar­eas, per­sis­tent poverty and hunger will con­tinue to drive mi­gra­tion flows, not only to ur­ban ar­eas, but also to neigh­bor­ing and nearby coun­tries and des­ti­na­tions far­ther abroad. Leav­ing ru­ral ar­eas be­hind will not move de­vel­op­ing coun­tries for­ward; on the con­trary, for many, it threat­ens to throw the en­gines of progress into re­verse.

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