World’s Poorest Nations Battle Rising Rural Poverty

By Thalif Deen, IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 2015 (IPS) – The world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the poor, are fighting a relentless battle against rising rural poverty. More than two-thirds of the population of LDCs live in rural areas and 60 percent work in agriculture. As a result, there is an urgent need for structural changes focused on the fight against poverty, says a new report released on November 25 by the Geneva-based UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). “This means developing the synergies between agricultural modernization and diversification of the rural economy.” Currently, the total population of the 48 LDCs is estimated at over 932 million people.

UNCTAD’s Least Developed Countries Report 2015, subtitled “Transforming Rural Economies”, presents a road map to address rural poverty, lack of progress in rural transformation, and the root causes of migration within and from LDCs. The migration of poor people from the countryside into cities fuels excessive rates of urbanization in many of the 48 LDCs, while many international migrants come from rural areas, says the report. The theme of World Food Day last October was “Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty:” in line with FAO’s annual State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report that called for “sustained private and public investments and social protections for the rural poor.”

Rural women, the majority of whom depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods, make up over a quarter of the total world population, according to the United Nations.

In developing countries, rural women represent approximately 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, and produce, process, and prepare much of the food available, thereby giving them primary responsibility for food security. Since 76 percent of the extremely poor live in rural areas, rural women are critical for the success of the new Sustainable Development agenda for 2030, according to the United Nations. The eradication of poverty by 2030 is one of the main objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by world leaders last September.

Gauri Pradhan, the Nepali-based, International Coordinator of LDC Watch, an umbrella group of NGOs in LDCs, told IPS the means of Implementation in the SDGs is key to transforming rural economies and enhancing productive capacity in LDCs, which is primarily based on agriculture. SDG 2(a) recognizes this, and “it is imperative that we have both international cooperation and effective domestic measures that focus on LDCs,” he said.

SDG 2 calls to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. The LDCs cover a wide range of countries, extending from Afghanistan, Angola and Bangladesh to Vanuatu, Yemen, and Zambia. Of the 48 LDCs, 34 are in Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia Sudan, and Uganda, among others.

Since the LDC category was initiated by the UN General Assembly in 1971, only four countries have graduated to developing country status based on their improved economic performance: Botswana in 1994, Cabo Verde, in 2007, Maldives in 2011, and Samoa in 2014. At least two more countries — Equatorial Guinea and Vanuatu – are expected to graduate in the coming years. UNCTAD recommends placing more importance on non-farm rural activities instead of primarily focusing on increasing agricultural productivity, as well as increasing the production of higher-value agricultural products.

Since 2012, economic growth in LDCs has continued to slow, reaching 5.5 percent in 2014 as compared to 6.1 percent in 2013. Demba Dembele, LDC Watch President based in Senegal, told IPS the UNCTAD report comes at a time when agricultural policies and migration issues are high on the African agenda, with a recent African Development Bank Conference on African agricultural policies, and an Africa-European Union Summit on Migration.

“So it is hoped that this report will give direction on how to deal more effectively with these issues, particularly in Africa”, he added.

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Source: IPS (Inter Press Service)

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