Agri investment needed to ‘root out poverty’

Instead of being ‘poverty traps,’ rural areas can drive economic growth in developing countries, the FAO says.

Young woman collecting coffee cherries, East Africa

Instead of being ‘poverty traps,’ rural areas can drive economic growth in developing countries, the FAO says.

The agricultural sector in developing countries has the potential to eradicate hunger and poverty provided that the right investment and policies are put in place to unlock that potential, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“There is ample evidence that changes to rural economies can have major impacts,” the agency said in the latest edition of a report it has been publishing annually since 1947. It noted that such transformation has been going on since the 1990s, helping an additional 750 million people in rural areas rise above the moderate poverty line of $3.10 per person per day.

However, some countries – primarily in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – have been left behind, a disadvantage compounded if the number of people aged 15-24 increases by 100 million by 2030, as forecast. That population growth will take place almost entirely in sub-Saharan Africa with the majority of it in rural areas.

“That is why targeting policy support and investment to rural areas to build vibrant food systems and supporting agro-industries that are well connected to urban zones – especially small and medium-size cities – will create employment and allow more people to stay, and thrive, in the countryside represents a strategic intervention,” the FAO said.

Wanted: rural infrastructure push

Eradicating hunger and poverty are among goals included in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the FAO has identified three key areas of action. The first is implementing policies that will ensure the inclusion of smallholder farmers in meeting urban food demand, such as measures that facilitate access to credit and markets, that strengthen land tenure rights, and foster the adoption of environmentally sustainable practices and technologies.

The second pillar involves investing and developing the infrastructure needed to connect rural areas to urban markets, such as  roads, electrical power grids, storage facilities and refrigerated transport.

The third line of action calls for linking rural areas to small cities and towns, not just major urban markets.

“In the developing world, about half of the total urban population, or almost 1.5 billion people, live in cities and towns of 500,000 inhabitants or fewer,” FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva said in the report. According to the organization, these smaller urban centers are often overlooked.

“Policymakers are urged to recognize the catalytic role of small cities and towns in mediating the rural-urban nexus and providing smallholder farmers with greater opportunities to market their produce and share in the benefits of economic growth,” da Silva added.