Focusing on less-favoured areas

Posted: 4 April 2001

Nearly two-thirds of the rural population of developing countries - almost 1.8 billion people - live in so-called less-favoured areas, including marginal agricultural areas, forest, woodland and arid areas, according to a recent study by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

These areas include most of the semi-arid and arid tropics of Africa and South Asia, mountain areas in South America and Asia, much of the highlands of East and Central Africa, hillside areas in Central America and Southeast Asia, and large portions of the humid tropics of Africa and Latin America. In fact, probably most of the rural poor in developing countries live in these less-favoured areas.

Low agricultural productivity and land degradation are severe in these areas. Cereal yields of less than one metric ton per hectare are common, and deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, and soil nutrient depletion are widespread.

According to conventional wisdom, strategies for development in developing countries should emphasize public investments in favoured areas, because returns would be greatest there, and increased food production and rapid economic growth would ensure food security and allow people to migrate out of less-favoured regions, reducing poverty and pressure on the resources there.

However, despite large investments in favoured areas and rapid urbanization in most countries, rapid population growth continues in less-favoured lands. Poverty and resource degradation have worsened in these areas, while investments in favoured areas have faced diminishing returns and increased social and environmental problems. The threat of famine is severe in many less-favoured areas, and resource degradation appears to be contributing to this threat.

The report suggests various strategies to address these problems.These include approaches which conserve and efficiently use scarce water, control erosion, restore soil fertility, and increase the supply of useful bio-mass

No single strategy will work in all less-favoured areas, concludes the report. However, all effective strategies will require investments in physical, human, natural, or social capital. The key is to identify and implement the appropriate portfolio of such public and private investments for different circumstances.