Rural reforms can reduce poverty in South Asia, UN-backed report says

7 February 2003

South Asia, home to 1.4 billion people, needs to carry out major reforms to build a system of agriculture and rural development that is both growth-oriented and human-centred, according a report compiled with the help of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The substantial progress South Asia has made in agricultural production, has been "neither adequate nor equitable enough to reduce the region's huge backlog of poverty," said Farid Rahman, Acting President of the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre in Islamabad, Pakistan, which prepared the report with support from UNDP.

The challenge for South Asia is to carry out major reforms in rural areas to achieve high levels of human development, according to the UN-backed report, "Human Development in South Asia 2002: Agriculture and Rural Development," released yesterday in Kathmandu, Nepal.

According to the compilers of the report, agricultural reforms have not been adequate to reduce the region's huge poverty rates. More than one third of the region's people - or some 530 million in all - live on less than $1 a day. The report covers Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Small farms should be the centre of the revival of agriculture and rural development, according to the study, and the incentive system that is provided to commercial farming should not be at the expense of the vast majority of the rural populace.

Women are the “invisible and unrecognized backbone” of South Asian agriculture, the report says, adding that in rural areas, they remain hostage to feudal traditions. Henning Karcher, UNDP’s Resident Representative in Nepal, says, “Administrative structures have not shown adequate sensitivity to rural women’s needs, and as a result, women’s programs are still peripheral.”

The report stresses that human development and economy are linked with each other intrinsically. Education, healthcare, water supply, sanitation and other social services require resources. Human development can only be achieved through the equitable distribution of the benefits of economic growth among the people.

The report recommends accelerated investment in agricultural research, technology, and infrastructure, including agricultural marketing and irrigation facilities. It also stresses that for South Asian countries to benefit from globalization in agricultural trade, it is important that the "rich and prosperous proponents" of free trade in the North play a fairer game by eliminating large agricultural subsidies.

 

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