Rural Development And Poverty Alleviation

The extent of the rural poverty problem in the developing world is well known, as illustrated by the comment of Naylor and Falcon on p. 360 that the rural poor will continue to outnumber the urban poor well into this century. In Latin America and the Caribbean, to mention one example, rural poverty worsened between 1986 and 1996, both in incidence and in absolute numbers. Plus, although the proportion of rural poor in the total population is expected to decline in that region over the next twenty years, the absolute numbers of rural poor will hardly change.68 Similar situations prevail in Africa and large parts of Asia.

At the same time, rural development programs as originally conceived have been in decline in some international agencies:

There is. . . recognition of the decline of importance of rural development in national agendas and the decreased lending portfolio of the World Bank for rural development activities, despite the strategic importance of rural development and its potential to significantly reduce poverty.69

To some extent, broad rural development programs can be replaced by a series of specific initiatives to promote agriculture, such as market-assisted land reform or land funds (Chapter 5), better management of irrigation systems (Chapter 6), and community participation in agricultural research and extension (Chapter 8). However, it is always valuable to coordinate policies and programs under a rural, spatial focus. Rural development can become another integrating dimension of an agricultural strategy and at the same time carry its policy prescriptions beyond the sector. It goes without saying that the linkages between agricultural and non-agricultural activities in rural areas are strong, and the latter constitute significant sources of employment and income for rural families:

rural development issues must be integrated into agricultural policy. . .. Only job creation can solve the problem of rural poverty. In many countries rural development policy is limited to agricultural policy; however, no country has ever solved the problem of rural poverty exclusively on the farm.70

In addition to the direct benefits of creating non-agricultural jobs in rural areas, taking into account off-farm employment opportunities for smallholders - the measure of the opportunity cost of their time - can be crucial for the design of agricultural production technologies that are acceptable to them. In the short run, this opportunity cost can be different for different members of a household. An integrated view of how a rural household functions, including the traditional divisions of labor by gender, is necessary in order to formulate realistic approaches to rural development.71

The Estonian strategy mentioned in these pages is effectively a rural development strategy.

68. The World Bank, Plan de Acción para el Desarrollo Rural en América Latina y el Caribe, Resumen del Informe, draft document presented at The City of Knowledge, Panama, March 2001, p. 13.

70. R. L. Thompson, 1998, p. 4. On this point, see also T. Reardon, K. Stamoulis, M. E. Cruz, Al Balisca and J. Berdegué, 'Rural Non-Farm Income in Developing Countries: Importance and Policy Implications', special chapter in State of Food and Agriculture 1998, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 1998.

71. The distributional effects of non-farm rural employment can differ widely among countries, in good part as a function of the availability of farmland. For example, 'In Egypt the poor (those in the lowest quintile)

One of its principal chapters deals with rural social issues and economic policies for the rural poor. A major concern was the very low standard of living of former collective farm members, mainly the elderly, whose only remaining productive assets are tiny household plots. Accordingly, the strategy recommended titling those plots, with no charge to the families concerned, and widening the net of retirement benefits to cover former collective farm members. That chapter also dealt with issues of child care for working parents in rural areas and recommended, among many other measures, the establishment of special industrial development zones throughout the rural sections of the country, a recommendation which has since been put into effect. These brief examples illustrate how non-agricultural issues can be relevant to an agricultural strategy.

It is beyond the scope of this present study to try to synthesize the literature on rural development, or the richness of experience in this field in agencies such as the FAO. Rather, observations are offered about illustrative rural development experiences and conceptual issues, and the link between agricultural development policies and rural development is explored. The orientations underlying a renewed approach to rural development projects are summarized, and a conceptual framework for guiding resource allocation in rural development is suggested.

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