Enabling poor rural people
to overcome poverty

17 October

Magdalena Chivalán and Felipe Cotojá on their family farm.

Each year on 17 October, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty makes us look at the human tragedy of poverty, and reminds us how much more needs to be done to reduce the numbers of people who live on less than US$1.25 a day.

At IFAD, this day has special significance: At least 70 per cent of very poor people live in rural areas of developing countries, and enabling them to overcome poverty is at the heart of our mandate. Each year we take this opportunity to honour their hard work.

But it is just as important to celebrate successes in the campaign against poverty. Between 1981 and 2005, for example, the proportion of people living on less than US$1.25 a day worldwide fell from 52 to 25 per cent. During this period, about 500 million people climbed out of destitution – gaining dignity, improving their health and nutrition, and having the means to send their children to school instead of work.

Over the years we have met some of the people who changed their lives with help from initiatives funded by IFAD, and their advances inspire us to reinvigorate our efforts. Here are the stories of three of these families.

Magdalena Chivalán, Felipe Cotojá and their eight children live in El Quiché, Guatemala. Their community, isolated by the country’s 35-year civil war and lacking productive infrastructure, used to struggle to feed itself, mostly on corn and beans.

Things began to change in 1998 when the National Peace Fund initiated efforts to improve rural lives. The major turning point was installation of an irrigation system in 2000, with IFAD funding. The farmers of El Quiché transformed their once-a-year corn harvest into a three-times-a-year onion harvest. The onions, along with other high-value crops like French beans and radicchio, are selling overseas for top prices.

“My farm’s revenues went up by almost 50 per cent … by planting all these different types of vegetables,” says Cotojá. “Personally, I’ve invested these new funds in my children, by giving them the chance to study.” That will set the stage for his children to step even further away from poverty.

Kan Puey with her higher-yielding rice.

Cambodia, first ravaged by the Indo-China War and then by the war of ‘comrades and brothers’, ranks 137th on the Human Development Index. In one of the poorest areas, two IFAD-supported agricultural development projects are working with tens of thousands of rural poor families who scrape by on less than US$112 a year. One major emphasis is empowering women and improving their ability to produce food and earn income.

Major project activities include promotion of improved agricultural and livestock technologies and establishment of rural savings and loan facilities. Participants learn to raise fish in small ponds on their holdings, for example, and get access to improved rice varieties.

“I heard about these seeds with a higher yield so I decided to try them myself as an experiment to see if it was true or not,” says Kan Puey. “I tried them on part of my field, on 0.22 of my almost 2 hectares …. The result is very positive …. Next year, I plan to increase the area of this new rice up to half of my land because the production is high, and I also got a good price when I sold the seed.”

With the limited opportunities available in Al-Dhala, one of the poorest governorates in Yemen, not even a secondary school diploma was enough to land employment for Abdul Aleem. He could find only occasional work and was forced to accept help from his father to provide for his three children. But then IFAD began supporting a community resource management project that provides skills training and technical expertise, which are then deployed more broadly through community associations. The aim is to build a strong social base – the launching pad to achieve economic self-reliance and improve living standards.

When the project came to Aleem’s village, his education paid off, along with some prior experience in bee-keeping: he was selected to participate in bee-keeping and to serve as the village extension leader. The project provided him with five modern hives plus training.

Today, he has 50 modern hives and earns an annual income of nearly YER 500,000 (more than US$2,000). Aleem has big plans – to buy larger hives, breed and sell bee families, and buy a van for mobile bee-keeping. “My family now eat food items such as chicken, meat, vegetables, fruits and cereals more often than before,” he says. “I am proud to no longer be dependent on others to support my family.”

On International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, IFAD salutes these three families for their successes. Their stories demonstrate that when the hard work of poor rural people is supplemented by high-quality support that increases their skills and helps them access the tools they need, the results can be dramatic. But these kinds of initiatives need to be scaled up and the funding greatly expanded if we are to help the millions of other smallholders rise out of subsistence farming and become skilled, confident operators of small agricultural businesses. That is the fastest route to eradication of poverty.