Rural poverty exists everywhere

Impoverished rural smallholders are a global, not a local phenomenon. Photo: Curt Carnemark (World Bank)

Between 2008 and 2011 I did a PhD in rural development in Romania. I studied over 50 rural communities, their habits and culture in order to develop a better socio-economic development strategies.

In the 50+ communities where I have been in Romania, I have seen people that are struggling to ensure their day-to-day living for themselves and their families. I saw people plowing in the same way they did 20-50 years ago, using their cows and a wooden plow. I saw children renouncing school because their families couldn’t afford even to keep them in the mandatory ten classes which are supposed to be free.

This is why I was struck by a declaration made by a IFAD representative today in the P.3.1. Innovations for Better Livelihoods Session of the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD 2012). Referring to the IFAD Rural Poverty Report for 2011, he said that all that “the rural poor that need our attention live in the developing countries and we should focus our attention on them”.

Addressing the problem of rural poverty needs concerted action by all stakeholders at global level. While the numbers might be lower in so called developed countries than in developing ones, it still remains an issue.

Unlocking innovation represents a major challenge on our way to ending rural poverty. The farmers, fishers and herders who live on less than a dollar/day live complex, highly adaptive lives where individual technical solutions in and of themselves have limited impact. Recognizing this complexity and the importance of working with stakeholders to understand and design solutions that work for them, a diversity of approaches grounded on participatory action research must be developed such as the concept of Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D).

Despite the conceptual agreement around these approaches and the promise they hold, there are also concerns, not only regarding how these approaches can have impact, but also how they can they do so at scale. Participatory approaches to agricultural research have often been judged to be slow and costly “boutique solutions” confined to the sites where they work directly. As a result their impact on poverty is considered by some to be marginal when compared with commodity research targeting many millions of people.

The Session explored these issues by considering how investment in agricultural research can be strengthened to increase its contribution to poverty reduction and improve the lives of those that more conventional approaches have failed to reach. In doing so specific issues such as partnerships and the role that they play in strengthening the quality of research MUST be taken into account with the ultimate role of improving the impact of AR4D at community level.

Blogpost by Codrin Paveliuc Olariu, one of the GCARD2 social reporters.

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