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05.04.2019 Feature Article

Our Rural Poverty Story Must Change!

Our Rural Poverty Story Must Change!

Rural dwellers in Africa especially, should not be forced to use social media to change their circumstances. For this reason, leaders across the continent must wake up! This is for the simple reason that the story of poverty and hunger which has been painted in rural Africa and other developing worlds has gone on for a long time without anyone showing concern.

Figures produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) show that, majority of the world’s poor live in rural areas: rural populations account for 45.3 percent of the world’s population, but 70 percent of the world is extremely poor.

In Africa, the story is so vivid that, one wonders if the leaders really care. What has been done so far is the production of documents on strategies and programmes, as if these were all that was needed to accelerate development. As a matter of fact, if that was all that was required, Africa would have long solved its rural poverty problem.

What has been lacking is the political will as well as backing the ideas and talks with action. These documents have not placed so much emphasis on exactly what must be done to improve Africa’s rural areas. As a result, sustenance farming which is practiced in rural areas has not been able to meet the food needs of the continent.

No wonder, in launching the Africa Development Bank’s (AfDB) Feed Africa Strategy for Agricultural Transformation In Africa 2016-2025, AfDB President, Akinwumi A. Adesina said, agricultural transformation will help to revitalize the rural areas, turning them from zones of economic misery today, to zones of economic prosperity.

“This will require significant investments in raising agricultural productivity, development of rural infrastructure, provision of affordable finance, as well as incentives for the private sector to establish food processing and Agro-allied industries in rural areas,” Adesina said.

For Adesina, the time has come for Africa to feed itself, adding that, “there is no reason for Africa to be a net food importing region, spending $35 billion annually on food imports.”

What AfDB has found is that, Africa has 65 percent of uncultivated arable land left in the world to feed 9 billion people by 2050. Therefore, Adesina said, what Africa does with agriculture today will determine the future of food in the world.

Consequently, the AfDB is putting in place programmes that will allow the continent to become a net food exporting region. It is hoped that this will be achieved through agricultural industrialization to add value by processing food and export commodities.

Through its Feed Africa Strategy, AfDB expects to spend $24 billion between 2016-2050 to support agricultural transformation which it is hoped will assist to end extreme poverty, eliminate malnutrition, end dependency on food imports and move Africa to the top of the value chains in areas of its comparative advantage.

At another level, the 2019 Global Food Policy Report, launched by IFPRI in March, rural areas could become premiere hubs of innovations in just under a decade. It recommends revitalizing rural areas with a focus on five building blocks: creating farm and non-farm rural employment opportunities; achieving gender equality; addressing environmental challenges; improving access to energy; and investing in good governance.

It also said job creation is critical to reducing poverty in rural areas, especially in the rural areas of Africa south of the Sahara, where poverty is high and youth populations are large. Policies that encourage investments in rural transport networks, telecommunications, and human capital in African countries can prepare rural youth for new jobs in rural and urban areas, and bridge the rural-urban gap, according to the report.

Globally, IFPRI said, 80 percent of the extreme poor made up of people living on less than $1.90 per day and 75 percent of the moderately poor living on $1.90 to $3.20 per day live in rural areas. They said, prevalence of rural stunting is 26.8 percent, as compared with 19.2 percent in urban areas.

The global rural poverty rate is currently 17 percent, in contrast to an urban poverty rate of 7 percent, the IFPR said, adding that “the prevalence of hunger is highest in Africa south of the Sahara, recording 22.3 percent and South Asia, 15.1 percent

The report said, by 2000, about 69.0 percent of the population of Africa south of the Sahara was rural, and 66.0 per cent was employed in agriculture. By 2018, these percentages had shrunk to 60.5 and 57.0, respectively. “Creating more and better jobs is especially important given Africa’s large youth population, estimated to make up 35 percent of the labour force in 2050, who will need to find remunerative employment,” the IFPRI said.

The report said, Africa’s share of total world rural poverty was pegged at 39.6 percent in 2015. This is however projected to shoot up to 58.1 percent in 2050. As rural poverty increases, so also does the access to electricity reduce in Africa south of the Sahara. The report also said, nearly nine out of ten lacking access to electricity resided in rural areas, primarily in Africa and South Asia. “Africa south of the Sahara, where populations are both widely dispersed and particularly poor, accounted for about 60 percent of those lacking access to electricity,” it added.

This has also impeded women’s empowerment as well as environmental degradation. The IFPRI said, one-third of the world’s lands are considered moderately to highly degraded due to the erosion, compaction, waterlogging, salinization, acidification, and chemical pollution of soils, with erosion being the key challenge.

Against the background of extreme poverty in the rural areas, IFPRI’s director general, Shenggen Fan, has suggested revitalizing rural areas to stimulate economic growth in order to address the crises in developing countries, as well as tackle challenges holding back achievement of the SDGs and climate goals by 2030.

“Rural revitalization is timely, achievable, and most important, critical to ending hunger and malnutrition in just over a decade,” said Fan.

United Nations Development Programme Administrator, Achim Steiner, and co-author of the lead chapter in the report said, “rural transformation requires a holistic economic approach to connect rural and urban economies. Strengthening these connections can spur growth and diversification in the farm and non-farm sectors, closing socio-economic and quality-of-life gaps between urban and rural areas.”

IFPRI’ director for Africa,Ousmane Badiane, and co-author of the report chapter on Africa said, “rapid urbanization in Africa is creating new opportunities for rural transformation and revitalization, mainly due to growing demand for food in urban areas, and investments in new staple food processing technologies as seen in the case of Ghana, Mali, Tanzania and Senegal.”

In south Asia too, there is a greater emphasis on growth in rural employment, and agricultural productivity by strengthening of the agriculture-based rural nonfarm economy, said Pramod Joshi, director for South Asia, IFPRI, and co-author of the report chapter on South Asia.

To ensure all can participate and benefit from growth and transformation of rural areas, the report recommends investing efforts in reducing general disparities. “Empowering women can improve agricultural productivity, overall well-being of mothers and children, and increase their capacity to contribute to rural revitalization,” said Hazel Malapit, researcher at IFPRI, and co-author of report chapter on gender equality.

Beyond economic progress and human capital, rural environments must also be restored and improved to secure the many services they provide. “To engage rural residents as custodians of valuable natural resources, their rights to these resources should be recognized in law and practice,” said Claudia Ringler, deputy division director, and co-author of the report chapter on environment.

The report said, achieving these policy goals require investments in good governance and identified, three aspects of governance critical for rural revitalization: appropriate and predictable laws and regulations; effective policy implementation and enforcement; and accountability of those in positions of power and authority.

Francis Kokutse
Francis Kokutse, © 2019

This author has authored 7 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: FrancisKokutse

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