UN’s FAO report says support the poor to beat poverty

Rome, October 13

Nearly a billion people worldwide still live on less than $1.25 a day and a smart combination of social assistance and measures to boost farm output is key to reducing that figure, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said today.

In its 2015 ‘State of Food and Agriculture’ report, the Rome-based agency said that while the number of people living in extreme poverty (below the $1.25 threshold) has declined substantially in recent years, huge pockets of misery persist across the globe.

“Poverty and malnutrition remain unconscionably high in many parts of the world, and rural people who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods find it particularly hard to break the cycle of poverty,” the FAO report concludes.

While big advances in the fight against extreme poverty have been made in East Asia, the Pacific and South Asia, almost no headway has been recorded in sub-Saharan Africa, where almost half the population is extremely poor.

Lying behind that state of affairs, the report argues, is the African rural poor’s continuing reliance on agriculture for their livelihoods and the high share of their expenditure that goes on food.

That and the evidence from elsewhere indicate that social protection and agricultural development can be powerful allies in the battle to alleviate poverty and hunger.

The report cites Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Mexico and South Africa as examples of countries where social assistance-based programmes have yielded results and notes that poverty incidence remains highest where these are the least developed.

“Most countries, even the poorest, can afford social protection programmes that could be of significance in the fight against poverty,” the report notes, while recognising that financing them may force governments into difficult spending choices in the absence of donor assistance.

According to FAO report, social protection helped lift up to 150 million people out of extreme poverty in 2013 alone.

“Social protection allows households to increase and diversify their food consumption,” often through their own increased production, the report notes, adding that programmes targeted at women had particularly good results by stopping the vicious circle of maternal and child malnutrition being perpetuated through the generations.

Social protection for the rural poor also stimulates investment in agricultural production by promoting savings as well as through its positive impact on nutrition, health and education.

The report argues strongly that measures to give the rural poor great financial assistance do not reduce work effort or foster a dependency culture.

Rather, removing the immediate threat of hunger encourages small farmers to become more efficient and makes rural wage earners more likely to start producing themselves.

Initiatives designed to foster agricultural development, such as Brazil’s clean-water programmes or institutional buying of food supplies direct from small farmers, can have a direct impact on the living standards of the rural poor.