Agricultural technology has not been of much help to small farmers who suffer from many disadvantages compared with medium and large farmers. Also trapped within the subsistence cycle (along with small farmers) are the landless, tribal peoples, fisher-people, refugees and other disadvantaged. Unable to get out of abject poverty, they are reconciled to a state of subsistence, finding some small security in their meagre sustenance. In this situation they experience themselves unable to risk even very small and simple enterprises.
Subsistence farming traps the poor (because they do not have capital) into a pattern of farming in which they practice methods requiring the least investment and giving the least return. The tragedy of this approach is that it does not provide the surplus necessary for moving to a more productive style of farming. Over the years this way of operating has prevented them from seizing new opportunities. Rural development practitioners are discovering ways to use new opportunities to break the subsistence cycle and help small and marginal farmers join the mainstream of development.
The landless are the poorest of the rural poor. Without productive assets their mainstay is seasonal employment which provides wages insufficient even for subsistence let alone for productive investment in building assets. Their needs continue to grow under the impact of the 'acquisitive society' and their number is increasing as small farmers cannot compete. While the large farmers may not be able to use all their resources productively' the small and marginal farmers lack the opportunities to gain access to the resources.
In addition to land-based farming' fisheries and aquaculture represent an important source of food. The condition of both inland and marine fisher people leaves much to be desired. They are disorganized and easily exploited by middle-traders.
Considering the third world as a whole, roughly 90% of the absolute poor (falling below the Indian poverty line which is determined nutritionally) live in rural areas. Within these rural areas of the world, the percentage of the population in poverty rises from 32% in the Near East, to 49.8% in Asia, to 53.4% in Latin America, to 65.2% in Africa. Given this high incidence of poverty in the rural areas and the location of most of the poor in the countryside, reductions in poverty depend on achieving sustained growth of agricultural income per capita of the rural population, combined with guaranteed access of all sections of the rural working population to productive resources (land, water, pasture, forests). Unfortunately, neither condition has been satisfied in the 1980s. Agricultural GDP per head of the agricultural population actually fell in Africa, Latin America and the Near East, and rose only in Asia. Land concentration remained high in most countries, and appears to have increased in such countries as Brazil, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uruguay. And the size of the landless population increased by 11 million between 1980 and 1985, or by 5.3%. The conclusion is inescapable: that "with notable exceptions, the basic needs of the rural poor are being less well met today than they were at the beginning of the decade".
In Zambia the Smallholder Coffee Development Project helped over 500 small holders to begin the cultivation of coffee. As their economic condition has improved they have begun taking an interest in the community's socio-cultural activities.
Attempts to improve the economic status of the landless touch only the fringe of the problem. Organizing and equipping them with the skills for village industries is proceeding slowly, with many problems. The ancillary services of big and medium industries has helped to provide remunerative employment to a large section of rural families in places like Japan, but the trend is not progressing in the poorer countries. Allotment of land is next to impossible because of its limited availability' for one reason' and the population explosion for another.
The Proshika Monobik Unnayan Kendra in Bangladesh has addressed itself to the tasks of organizing the rural poor, (particularly the landless) and helping them with establishing small scale industries' livestock and poultry production. The project has also helped in building up the organizational structure of the rural poor, by providing the educational support for training in practical skills, and assistance in income and employment generating activities in the local communities. Proshika initiated these activities in thirty areas located in 11 districts of the nation. The rural poor are gaining control over minor irrigation assets and small scale industries' as well as protecting themselves from the exploitation of money-lenders and landlords.