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Goodbye to rural poverty

Agriculture alone can't put an end to rural poverty. That is one of the conclusions of the studies directed by Hans Cansen, researcher and Central American coordinator, and Shenggen Fan, director of government and development strategies at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Hans Cansen centered his study on three Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. His goal was to describe the assets of rural populations in order to understand their impact on economic growth and living standards and propose strategies for rural investment.

In the three countries studied, families that depend on agriculture find themselves worse off than the general population. Low land and labor productivity contribute, according to the researcher's conclusions, to rural poverty. Therefore, Cansen claims, the agriculture sector should become more efficient and competitive and solutions should be found to facilitate the rural populations' entry into other, more diversified ways of earning a living, outside of agriculture.

The study showed how different rural regions in the same country have different economic potentials and how public investment usually focuses on areas with greater potential, ignoring those with less potential, which are usually those where higher poverty levels exist. The result is that investments don't reach the poorest people. Cansen stressed the need to pay special attention to indigenous families, who suffer the most from discrimination, and who need to be integrated into the economy mainly through increased education. In rural areas, education and vocational training can be instruments to improve well-being.

Shenggen Fan analyzed the impact of public investment on poverty reduction in various countries in Asia and Africa. Fan claimed that public expenditures aimed at reducing rural poverty should focus on education, agricultural research and development and infrastructure improvements. The least developed areas appreciate these types of investments the most, bringing the best results in terms of poverty reduction as well as growth. 

Fan warned that wide policy, economic, social and even cultural differences exist between Asia and Latin America, and that therefore, his conclusions may not be strictly applicable to the latter region. Even if a series of general activities could be proposed based on Fan's study, a common rural poverty reduction strategy should not be designed without further analysis of the special characteristics specific to each region.