Rural poverty

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Rural economic stagnation
Subsistence poverty economy

One of the major goals of every nation's agricultural policy is the provision of adequate food supply to the population. Currently, however, the world has seen food deprivations, chronic malnutrition and famine afflict an increasing number of victims, especially in the poorest of developing countries. There is a growing consensus among experts that world malnutrition, hunger, and starvation are only the most visible aspects of the basic problems of poverty. The landless and the near landless in the rural areas and elsewhere simply lack adequate purchasing power to sustain equitable terms of trade between the agricultural sector and the industrial sector of the nation. Stated somewhat differently, poverty among rural peasants who also make up the majority of the population in most developing countries not only retards the development of a viable industrial sector but also accounts for the stagnation or decline of production in the agricultural sector itself—thus opening the population to hunger and malnutrition. From then on it is a vicious circle—a circle of poverty.

Despite general recognition that fate does not require people to live at a bare subsistence level, long-established patterns of existence and traditional style of life of many Third World rural communities are such that providing the means of day-to-day living overrides making plans for the future. The result is that ancient modes of agriculture and agricultural barter mechanisms are being questioned by the trend toward a cash economy. However, rising expectations on living standards reveal the absence of economic infra-structures such as available capital, saving mechanisms and usable credit. The lack of a well operating marketing system, of an indigenous agricultural research system and of a physical rural infrastructure help maintain subsistence economies. And the frustration of negotiating a change in economic patterns while maintaining a vital cultural heritage serves to discourage the necessary changes from taking place.


Over half the world's population is still rural and depends primarily on agriculture, forestry and fishing for a livelihood: more than 2,000 million people, the majority of whom live in developing countries. Of an estimated 750 million people in the developing world classified as living in poverty, more than 80% live in rural areas, and about 85% of all absolute poverty is in these rural areas. Among the rural poor, there are over 80 million small land holdings (less than 2 hectares), some 30 million or more tenant farmers, sharecroppers and squatters, and a growing numbers of landless or near landless workers (especially in Asia). The number of landless farm workers in the developing countries is increasing steadily. There are an estimated 47 million in India alone—about 1/3 of the active population in agriculture—and 10 million in Latin America.

On average, 40% of rural people live below the poverty line; that is, they earn an income less than sufficient to supply their basic needs of food, health, water, housing and education. Behind these stark facts there is a mass of people condemned to hunger, malnutrition and ignorance. Despite the rise in average incomes over the past two decades, the incidence of rural poverty has shown little tendency to diminish and, in many cases, the standard of living of some socio-economic groups, notably the landless, has actually declined. The reasons for this may have less to do with aggregate or sectoral rates of growth than with such factors as the distribution of productive assets, the pattern of government investment, and the non-neutrality of technological advance. The experience of growth in the last quarter of a century has not succeeded in mitigating the problem of rural poverty in Africa, Latin America or Asia.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST