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.
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.