The Economic Issues series aims to make available to a broad readership of nonspecialists some of the economic research being produced on topical issues by IMF staff. The series draws mainly from IMF Working Papers, which are technical papers produced by IMF staff members and visiting scholars, as well as from policy-related research papers. This Economic Issue is based on IMF Working Paper 00/78 "Rural Poverty in Developing Countries: Issues and Policies." Citations for the research referred to in this shortened version are provided in the original paper which readers can purchase (for $10.00 a copy) from the IMF Publication Services, or download from www.imf.org. Paul Gleason prepared the text for this pamphlet.
Rural Poverty in Developing Countries
The causes of rural poverty are complex and multidimensional. They involve, among other things, culture, climate, gender, markets, and public policy. Likewise, the rural poor are quite diverse both in the problems they face and the possible solutions to these problems. This pamphlet examines how rural poverty develops, what accounts for its persistence, and what specific measures can be taken to eliminate or reduce it. Broad economic stability, competitive markets, and public investment in physical and social infrastructure are widely recognized as important requirements for achieving sustained economic growth and a reduction in rural poverty. In addition, because the rural poor's links to the economy vary considerably, public policy should focus on issues such as their access to land and credit, education and health care, support services, and entitlements to food through well-designed public works programs and other transfer mechanisms. About one-fifth of the world's population is afflicted by poverty—these people live on less than $1 a day. Poverty is not only a state of existence but also a process with many dimensions and complexities. Poverty can be persistent (chronic) or transient, but transient poverty, if acute, can trap succeeding generations. The poor adopt all kinds of strategies to mitigate and cope with their poverty. To understand poverty, it is essential to examine the economic and social context, including institutions of the state, markets, communities, and households. Poverty differences cut across gender, ethnicity, age, location (rural versus urban), and income source. In households, children and women often suffer more than men. In the community, minority ethnic or religious groups suffer more than majority groups, and the rural poor more than the urban poor; among the rural poor, landless wage workers suffer more than small landowners or tenants. These differences among the poor reflect highly complex interactions of cultures, markets, and public policies. Rural poverty accounts for nearly 63 percent of poverty worldwide, reaching 90 percent in some countries like Bangladesh and between 65 and 90 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. (Exceptions to this pattern are several Latin American countries in which poverty is concentrated in urban areas.) In almost all countries, the conditions—in terms of personal consumption and access to education, health care, potable water and sanitation, housing, transport, and communications—faced by the rural poor are far worse than those faced by the urban poor. Persistently high levels of rural poverty, with or without overall economic growth, have contributed to rapid population growth and migration to urban areas. In fact, much urban poverty is created by the rural poor's efforts to get out of poverty by moving to cities. Distorted government policies, such as penalizing the agriculture sector and neglecting rural (social and...