Enabling poor rural people
to overcome poverty


The participants in this Conference emphasized that in a world of plenty it is morally and ethically unacceptable that nearly one billion people live in conditions of endemic hunger and poverty. Numerous conferences have identified the factors contributing to this situation and the elements necessary for their eradication.

This Conference on Hunger and Poverty is a product of collaboration among diverse stakeholders who addressed the issues of rural hunger including inter-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, NGOs and other civil society organizations.

This Conference has produced a consolidated analysis of the issues needing urgent action and the range of policies requiring local, national and international attention. These include the inequitable distribution of wealth, lack of access to productive resources, insufficient participation by the poor in decisions that affect their daily lives, and the need for reforms in macro-economic policies that adversely affect the poor. While assessing these issues, the participants recognized the broad range of actions, innovations and experiences of civil society, particularly grassroots organizations, in addressing the underlying causes of poverty and hunger.

Participants recognized the many priorities necessitating action. This resulted in a commitment to form a coalition of actors who, though different in nature and mandate, must come together to support these civil society initiatives in combating hunger and poverty. As a concrete fist step towards the creation of a broad framework for such a coalition, the Conference adopts a Programme of Action for a Popular Coalition. The articulation and implementation of and responsibility for this dynamic Programme of Action will build on the ownership of the process that has brought the concerned parties to this stage. The future of this coalition will depend on the same principles.

The path to creating a popular coalition to eradicate hunger and poverty

The Programme of Action will be a work-in-progress and will therefore evolve through a variety of processes, including:

  • the immediate establishment of a representative steering mechanism based on the model of the Advisory Committee with rotating membership drawn from the Conference participants and stakeholders;
  • providing opportunities for all Conference participants and others to respond to this Programme of Action;
  • building alliances with other organizations willing to advance this Programme of Action and strengthen this popular coalition for action to eradicate hunger and poverty; and
  • developing goals and concrete time-bound plans in consultation with all other actors in the coalition. This process should be carried out by 30 June 1996.

This collaborative and increasingly broad-based process will give rise to the public and political will required to conquer hunger and poverty. The concerns and recommendations contained in the four workshop reports and the background papers dealing with empowerment and access to productive resources; emergency prevention; technology development and diffusion; and combating environmental degradation will form part of this Programme of Action.

In moving forward, the participants recognized that the rural as well as the urban poor are active agents of their own development, having established practises and well developed coping strategies at the family and community level that have matured over generations. Their experience, tradition and practise form the basis upon which any new initiatives must build.

Emphasis will be given to women’ s rights, potential and empowerment. Since women are the main victims of today’ s hunger and emergencies, and because they are key actors in household food security, priority attention must be paid by international organizations to the role of women. Investing in poor women through literacy training, other education, nutrition, reproductive health and productive activities leads to strengthened household resistance to disasters. International organizations should collaborate with other partners in the coalition to work equally with women and men in defining the needs and potential of vulnerable regions. All areas of this Programme of Action will take a gender perspective with emphasis on women’ s rights and their empowerment. The rights of indigenous peoples and other disempowered people will be supported.

Action initiatives

In response to the above challenges, the Conference has identified five specific actions at the local, national and international levels.

a. establish a coalition for the empowerment of the poor through increasing their access to productive assets (especially land, water and credit) and direct participation in decision-making processes at the local, national, regional and international levels. A particular focus must be to strengthen the role of women who are responsible for a large part of food production and are essential to household food security. Actions in support of these goals require policy changes, community capacity- building and direct support to innovative actions. We, the Conference participants, call upon the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to take the necessary action to initiate this process, specifically through:

  1. Policy dialogue for creating an enabling environment for development that is based on the empowerment of poor people. Each of the following initiatives will support policy dialogue and enable civil society organizations to take part in decision-making at local to international levels. Special attention should be given to:

  2. the revival of agrarian reform on the national and international agenda as a necessary condition for empowerment and sustainable development for the poor. We ask IFAD to assist the coalition to identify, disseminate and support the replication of successful experiences in land re-distribution, titling and inheritance rights, securing rights to water and productive assets, guaranteeing the rights of indigenous people, ensuring equal rights to resources for women, and providing for the sustainable management of common property. This initiative should support specific community-based actions linked to policy and institutional reforms; and

  3. the active promotion of food security through national action plans developed with the full participation of civil society emphasizing sustainable production , food security at the household level and the establishment of food entitlements. To achieve this purpose, IFAD, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) should work together, building on prior international declarations and agreements. They should promote full participation by civil society in the World Food Summit in November 1996 in Rome.

  4. Support for capacity-building of civil society organizations combating hunger and poverty including direct financial support for people-to-people learning and exchanges, building on successful experiences in peoples’ empowerment and community level training delivered through civil society organizations with particular attention to the empowerment of rural women. To achieve this objective we call on national and international institutions, such as IFAD, to pool part of their resources in a special grant fund to support innovative capacity-building programmes. Support should also be provided for the replication and up-scaling of successful experiences.

  5. The establishment of an international guarantee fund to allow direct lending by International Financial Institutions and banks, credit unions and cooperatives to civil society organizations, particularly grassroots organizations of the rural poor.

b. establish a knowledge network in support of these objectives that will be primarily dedicated to the exchange of civil society knowledge and experience in fighting hunger and poverty, and in supporting policy dialogue at all levels. This network, consisting in essence of a network of existing networks, will use multiple means of communication, link multiple nodes in different countries at various levels for the exchange of views and mutual learning, involving civil society organizations, policy- makers, donors, international organizations and academicians from the North and the South. More specifically the objectives of the network, which will focus on the priority areas of the Conference, will be:

  • to enhance the knowledge of the coalition constituents about best practice in fighting hunger and poverty and environmental degradation;

  • to promote decentralized exchange of ideas among civil society organizations, international financial institutions, inter-governmental organizations and other concerned parties; and

  • to provide a basis for policy dialogue grounded in the realities of the field work of civil society organizations.

To this end, IFAD and all other members of the Coalition including NGOs will initiate this knowledge network, giving particular attention to:

  • assisting local and especially remote communities to contribute to and benefit from this network;

  • using existing networks which work with grassroots innovators to network and disseminate knowledge among other communities and to propose a modus operandi to the coalition;

  • designing a system relevant to the means and access of grassroots institutions and users; and

  • contributing and seeking additional resources in support of this objective.

c. develop strategies to build public awareness and create political will, in the North and the South, to open up more space for policy reform and civil society initiatives. Specifically these strategies will support:

  1. information systems, networks and their focal points, and specialized news services concerned with poverty, hunger and environmental degradation;

  2. a newsmakers’ and curriculum development programme that will improve information and insight to journalists and educators, organize exposure missions for concerned journalists and educators, and strengthen the educational curriculum especially at schools of journalism; and

  3. civil society in countries where there is no access to alternative media.

To this end, the participants will launch initiatives and campaigns with their constituents and establish working partnerships with media and other concerned parties.

d. Initiate a global programme in emergency prevention. Pilot programmes in emergency preparedness and prevention should be undertaken. Specifically we ask the involved international organizations, bilateral donors and other interested parties to participate in the participatory design and implementation of at least two pilot programmes to provide long-term resources:

    (i) to regions prone to emergencies; and

    (ii) directly into the hands of vulnerable households.

In the shorter term, the aim will be to assist governments and civil society to prepare contingency plans for the time when policies and programmes fail. These will include better monitoring of food prices in remote markets, not only in regional capitals, with a view to assessing the impact of food price variations on the most vulnerable people in emergency-prone regions. Other socio-economic and political indicators of acute vulnerability will also be monitored.

Contingency planning will require the preparation and training of personnel for actions to offset the negative consequences of identified crises. In the context of such plans, governments should consider the feasibility of decentralized, locally managed emergency food reserves in disaster-prone regions. They should ensure appropriate institutional capacity and the resources necessary for effective action.

Furthermore, they should consider the preparation of on-the-shelf (designed ahead of time to meet local needs), labour-intensive public works and the potential for creating mobile health/vaccination teams to respond to crises.

The pilot programmes should include at least one situation of long-standing crisis. They should also include both situations of refugee repatriates and ex-combatants as well as natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

globally while giving particular attention to the resolution on urgent action for Africa. These will be jointly implemented by civil society organizations, governments and international organizations. Specifically this will entail:

e. Ensure early implementation of the convention to combat desertification

  1. the early ratification of the Convention and the establishment of national action programmes;

  2. strategies and mechanisms for involvement of civil society organizations in decision- making concerning the formulation, implementation and evaluation of National Action Programmes;

  3. the establishment of National Desertification Funds to be set up, inter alia, as trust funds governed by a board, composed of representatives of civil society organizations, with the aim to channel financial resources rapidly and efficiently to the local level for small-scale interventions in dryland areas and empowerment of local communities;

  4. training and capacity-building of civil society organizations to support the implementation of the Convention specifically with regard to the mobilization of popular and political will to combat desertification and the means to do so; and

  5. develop environmental accounting models and promote their use in these programmes.

The Conference calls upon IFAD to provide leadership through the Coalition to assist in establishing ten initial National Desertification Funds to support community-driven responses to desertification to accelerate learning on how best to pursue such funds.

This programme of action is unanimously endorsed by the conference on hunger and poverty with a concrete commitment towards its full implementation.

Brussels, November 1995