New report spotlights gap facing Latin rural poor

Latin America has the highest inequality in the world, and nowhere is this more evident than in the poorest rural territories in the region, according to the “Poverty and Inequality 2011: Latin America Report” released Tuesday in Mexico City by RIMISP – Latin American Center for Rural Development.

In Mexico for instance, nearly 60 per cent of the nation’s extreme poverty is concentrated in rural areas, according to the report, and the rural illiteracy rate is 15.6 per cent, while it’s only 4.3 per cent in urban areas.

Latin America’s poorest rural territories also have limited access to healthcare. In Mexico’s Mixtla de Altamirano Municipality, 700 of every 1000 live-born babies will die in their first year of life, according to the report. In 530 other municipalities across the country, the rate is less than 1 in 1000, and the national average is 17.6 children in every 1000.

The report – made possible through funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Development Research Centre – Canada (IDRC) – highlights the causes of extreme inequality, territorial achievement gaps and lack of opportunities in Latin America’s rural sector, analyzing socio-economic indicators in health, education, economic dynamism and employment, income and poverty, citizen security, and gender equality from 10 Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.

The in-depth study paints a picture of a region of extreme haves and have-nots, of nuanced territorial differences – even within the rural sector – and of failed and successful national policies for rural poverty reduction that have both contributed to overall poverty reduction and – in some cases – exacerbated the issue.

“Overall much of Latin America is making solid advances in reducing extreme poverty and closing the inequality gap,” said Josefina Stubbs, director of the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. “Nevertheless, much work needs to be done in closing these gaps and in creating dynamic public policies.”

According to the report’s analysis, Mexico’s public policies of the last 20 years have actually served to increase poverty and inequality in rural Mexico. For example, in Mexico’s 10 richest municipalities, the average per capita earnings are around $32,000, while in the poorest they are just $603 per year.

“When we see, for example, that the average GDP per capita of the richest municipalities is 50 times higher than that of the poorest, we need to ask ourselves how we are distributing the wealth of our country,” said José Antonio Mendoza, technical secretary of the Rural Dialogue Group. This is a program that is bringing top-thinkers from Latin America together to discuss issues of poverty and inequality across the region.

According to Mendoza, the figures from the Latin America Report “harshly illustrate the extensive territorial inequalities that relegate many of our compatriots from the rural areas and future generations to a life of deficiencies and lack of opportunities. We hope that this study will be a tool for decision makers in the design of solutions and public policies for development in rural Mexico.”

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