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Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Rural Development
by Anna T
The World Summit on Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa •• Aug. 29, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• Today, at the Sandton Convention Centre, one of the numerous meetings held, was to discuss “The Rural Poor – Survival or a Better Life?” organised by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

There are 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty, of these, 900 million live in rural areas where they depend directly or indirectly on agriculture to survive. It is for these reasons that, if the Millennium Development Goal of halving global hunger and poverty by 2020 is to be met, focus needs to be on methods of sustainable rural development. This depends on addressing the twin challenges of poverty and environmental degradation.

Within the panel of speakers addressing the meeting it was agreed that the fundamental task is one of sustainable agricultural intensification and that for this to be achieved the poor can no longer be the objects of development projects but must become the subjects, enabling communities to facilitate their own development. A number of areas were identified as important in achieving such agricultural intensification in a sustainable manner. The first related to issues of land. There is a need to implement policy to recognise land rights and improve land tenure of indigenous people. Until land becomes available people are forced to remain in overcrowded, marginal areas which are a direct cause of soil degradation and desertification. It is however not only land that needs to become available but access to resources and appropriate technology must be improved. For to long it has been assumed that developments in the technologies of the North if applied to the South would solve persisting problems. It must however be recognised that new problems need new solutions. Technology of the North is for the most part capital and energy intensive and wholly unsustainable, not providing solutions when applied to the South. Also, alongside developments in new technology there is a call for governments and development projects to support and encourage existing traditional technologies and knowledge.

To complement these changes there needs to be the strengthening of organisations of the rural poor and collaboration with the private sector to improve infrastructure and services available in rural areas. For these improvements to be capitalised upon a parallel increase in rural finance through public investment and an increase in access to markets must be achieved. Considerable opposition was aired regarding the agricultural subsidies allocated in the North which are resulting in the inundation of developing nations with cheap products, undermining the local markets and making it virtually impossible for micro-enterprises to compete. Consequently the need to reduce trade barriers was raised as an essential ingredient to achieving sustainable rural development and poverty reduction. New economic policy needs to be established encouraging micro-enterprise supported by micro-capital and national policy must secure, protect and improve rural livelihoods. Suggestion was made to harness the power of global and regional media consortia to reduce poverty through the spread of knowledge and the focus on stories of success in the field of sustainable development. There was a consensus on the need for intensified research into all areas of agriculture to foster optimum local development.

Other points of interest raised during the meeting were those of the representative of the indigenous people warning all to remember that it is not only the poor that lead to environmental degradation but indeed the unsustainable consumption and production of developed nations that must be targeted as well. She also highlighted the concern that the money being made available for development was not in reality reaching the people who are most in need of it, challenging government and international donor agencies that 40% of official development aid (ODA) goes straight into the pockets of international consultants brought in to administer and advise on spending. The head of the World Food Programme spoke of the need for safety nets when implementing development policy and projects for the rural poor to mitigate risk and cope with disaster. Finally on opening the floor for further comment and questions the South African Minister of Agriculture added the need for government department co-ordination and policy and implementation synergy if effective development is to be achieved.

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