Islamabad: Though social indicators in Pakistan’s rural areas showed marked improvement, the rural povery in the country was on the rise due to insufficient growth in the agricultural sector, a World Bank study said.
Agricultural growth, rural incomes, rural poverty and social welfare indicators have all showed marked improvements in recent years. “Yet despite impressive achievements, there is little reason for complacency. Around 35 million people in rural areas remain poor, representing about 80% of Pakistan’s poor,” said the report published by Dawn today.
“Agriculture growth is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for rapid reduction in rural poverty,” Yusupha Crookes, World Bank country-director for Pakistan was quoted as saying in the report.
“Appropriate investments in irrigation and the livestock sector can directly benefit small farmers who account for about 40% of the rural poor,” he said.
The report also said that an unequal distribution of land and water was a major obstacle in reducing rural poverty despite high agricultural output.
“Unequal distribution of land and access to water for the rural poor in Pakistan limit the scope for agricultural growth alone to rapidly reduce poverty in rural Pakistan,” it said, adding that sufficient use of water and building partnerships with the private sector can help fulfill agricultural potential for diversification and growth.
Overall, agriculture accounts for about 40% of rural household incomes in Pakistan. The poorest 40% of rural households get only 30% of their incomes from agriculture.
The World Bank report found that Pakistan’s rural non-farm sector faces numerous constraints, particularly relating to access to credit and inadequate infrastructure, it said.
According to the 2000 Agricultural Census, only 37% of rural households owned land, and 61% of these land-owning households owned less than five acres. Access to usable water is also unbalanced. Because of this skewed distribution of ownership and access to productive assets, much of the direct gains in income from crop production, particularly irrigated agriculture, accrue to higher income farmers.
An effective poverty reduction strategy, however, must also address the rural non-farm economy and needs of the rural non-farm poor, it said.
Social mobilisation, the report said, can empower the poor, enabling them to have a greater role in the development process, not only to improve delivery of public services, but also to increase their market share by building the voice and scale in farm and non-farm sectors.