ROME — China has led a dramatic decline in rural poverty rates in many parts of the world over the past decade, a report released on Monday by the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development showed.
The decline is mainly due to increased production and higher levels of private investment in the farming sector, as well as increased urbanisation across the developing world, economists from the Rome-based IFAD said.
Greater productivity of farmers and higher global food prices have also helped, as has the increase in farm market information available to small farmers in remote areas of the developing world using mobile phone technology.
"The figure of one billion poor rural people represents a substantial decline in rural poverty numbers -- down from almost 1.4 billion in the late 1980s," said IFAD's 2011 Rural Poverty Report, which comes out every 10 years.
"This has been largely due to the extraordinarily fast decline in the numbers of rural poor in East Asia particularly China," the report said.
The number of poor in East Asia has gone down from 365 million to 117 million in 2011, with the poverty rate falling from 44 percent to 15 percent.
Other regions where there have been major declines are South East Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa.
The numbers of rural poor have instead risen in South Asia and Africa.
Ed Heinemann, the report's coordinator, told AFP in an interview that poverty still remains concentrated in rural areas and he called on national governments and donor countries to design aid programmes accordingly.
He also warned the effects of climate change were beginning to be felt.
"For many, many farmers climate change is already happening. Rains aren't as reliable as they used to be. The knowledge that they had about the seasons is losing its value. There's greater uncertainty," Heinemann said.
"Longer-term we're going to see potentially devastating changes. Not just longer dry periods, more flash floods. We're going to see areas that are currently arable go out of production altogether," he added.
Heinemann said there were more positive developments in third world farming too, such as greater interest from the private sector because of higher food prices as well as greater use of mobile phones to access market information.
"It's revolutionised farming in rural areas" by allowing farmers to find out up-to-date market prices for their crops, Heinemann said.
Heinemann also said that education in rural areas in Brazil and China had helped reduce poverty but that other countries needed to do more.
Stephen Schonberger, an IFAD economist for Africa, said there needed to be more focus on the needs of smallholder farmers in the developing world because they were the key to reducing poverty amid rising population levels.
"We need to step up what we're doing... to avoid a major problem in the future," he said, adding that small-time farmers could become "a major driver of poverty reduction in rural areas."
Schonberger said the food price spike in 2007-2008, which led to food riots in some parts of the developing world, may actually have helped farming.
Ghana, he said, had seen "a dramatic decline in rural poverty" mainly because of higher prices for cocoa and cassava, as well as better infrastructure and a stable investment and political climate.
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