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Fighting rural poverty

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Fighting rural poverty


To develop a strategic framework for the activities of the European Community in the fields of rural development and sustainable natural resources management to fight rural poverty.

2) ACT

Communication from the Commission of 25 July 2002 - Fighting rural poverty - European Community policy and approach to rural development and sustainable natural resources management in developing countries [COM(2002)429 final - Not published in the Official Journal].



Poverty reduction is the central objective of the European Community's development policy. Rural development has been identified as one of the six priority areas for the European Community's development policy, for three main reasons:

  • at present, three quarters of the people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas;
  • hunger and poverty are predominantly rural problems;
  • rural development plays an important role in economic growth and the sustainable management of the environment.

Rural poverty is a complex problem that has several characteristics: low incomes, low consumption resulting from low productivity, inequality in ownership and access to productive assets, poor health and education, degradation of natural resources, vulnerability to risk, and weak political power.

Despite their importance, rural areas tend to be neglected and problems have been dealt with on an ad hoc basis. A coherent and integrated approach must be developed for activities in this sector.

Objectives of the policy

In addition to the global objective of reducing poverty, the specific objectives of the Community's policy to fight rural poverty are to:

  • promote broad-based rural economic growth;
  • ensure more equitable access to productive assets, markets and services (such as land, rural finance and rural infrastructure);
  • support human and social development by investing in human capital, especially in social fields such as education and health;
  • ensure sustainable natural resources management;
  • reduce vulnerability to risks;
  • address social and political exclusion by building more effective, accountable, decentralised and participatory institutions.

Intervention in key sectors such as agriculture, natural resource management, transport and communication is particularly important. The agricultural sector contributes substantially to economic growth and employment and forms the basis of the livelihoods of the majority of the rural poor. In addition, agricultural activities stimulate the growth of the non-farm sector, which is expanding in these areas. Successful management of natural resources is essential as there are close links between rural poverty and environmental degradation. The degradation of resources such as land and forests and phenomena such as the shortage of fresh water deprive the population of vital development resources.

The European Community's strategy for rural poverty reduction

The main thrust of the proposed strategy is to ensure that rural development concerns are properly addressed within the country's poverty analysis and integrated into the development and implementation of all policies and activities. They should also be reflected in the government budget (including donor support) and the services provided by the public sector. The strategy is centred around the six objectives set out in point 2. The Community will concentrate its support on actions where it can offer added value to the existing actions.

Guiding principles The guiding principles are as follows:

  • all interventions will be appraised according to their impact on all aspects of rural poverty;
  • actions must address the problem of gender inequality and the obstacles confronted by women in rural areas;
  • environmental assessments must be mainstreamed into aid policy making and programming;
  • Community support for the rural poor must be long-term;
  • activities must be viable beyond the period of donor funding;
  • there must be support for national rural poverty reduction strategies;
  • the decentralisation of planning, implementation, administration, etc. must be encouraged;
  • broad stakeholder participation is essential.


The tools used for implementation will include:

  • national development strategies/poverty reduction strategies;
  • rural development strategies (if necessary);
  • sector-wide measures;
  • project approach;
  • support to civil society organisations.

The Community will also work at regional and international level. At regional level, increased economic integration, the regional harmonisation of agricultural policies, agricultural research and the development of infrastructures may be beneficial. At international level, the Community will support, in particular, the provision of global public goods, for example investment in agricultural research, effective and equitable systems for the protection of intellectual property rights, the sharing of knowledge, etc.

Actions in support of rural poverty reduction

The Community has identified areas and actions to fight rural poverty, including the following:

Supporting economic policies

This involves support for macroeconomic policies and sector-wide polices:

  • macroeconomic policiesThe Community will support measures in fields such as macroeconomic management, trade liberalisation (trade development, enhanced competitiveness, improved access to Community markets, etc.), privatisation and market liberalisation as well as the allocation of budget resources;
  • sector-wide policiesThe key sectors here are the agricultural, livestock, fisheries, forestry and non-farm sectors. In the agricultural sector, actions focus on improving the policy environment for agriculture, enhancing market access, supporting producer associations and strengthening the services that support both production and research. The Community will secure, inter alia, input supply and technologies. A policy and regulatory framework must be developed, particularly for forest management.

Ensuring more equitable access to productive assets, markets and services

Equitable access to these three elements is essential for fair development. The Community's priority areas are land policy and the policy for the financing of rural infrastructures. The approach is based on the concept of decentralisation. The Community's activities will concentrate on the following areas:

  • land issuesThe rural poor need access to land as well as secure, well-defined and enforceable land rights in order to manage natural resources sustainably and to invest in land improvements. The Community will assist in the design and implementation of land policy reforms, including the introduction of legislative measures and institutional strengthening;
  • rural financeIt is essential to improve the rural poor's access to savings and credit. The Community will support the development of services, the strengthening of institutional capacities and the financial viability of microfinance operators;
  • rural, economic and social infrastructureRural areas are often isolated and have no access to markets, services, etc. The provision of rural infrastructures, including telecommunications, transport, water supply networks and energy, is often a key requirement for development and the Community will finance activities with this purpose. Activities must not only encompass design and implementation but also guarantee the capacity for operation and maintenance in the countries concerned.

Investing in human capital

Investments in human capital will concentrate mainly on the fields of education and health. In the education sector, the Community will focus, inter alia, on strengthening the management and delivery of services, mobilising resources, renovating school buildings and improving staff training. Measures to encourage girls, ethnic minorities and other disadvantaged groups to enrol and stay in school will also receive Community support.

In the health sector, Community assistance will concentrate on strengthening health systems in order to provide universal access to essential services. Actions to combat communicable diseases and infant mortality are also envisaged. In addition, a major priority will be to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Promoting sustainable natural resources management

This area will form an integral part of the Community policy on the rural poor as environmental degradation is closely linked to poverty. The Community will focus on key crosscutting issues, institutional reform and the development of technologies.

Managing risks and providing safety nets

Rural areas are vulnerable to a large number of risks related to disease, conflicts and climate. Certain actions will help to overcome or prevent these risks: actions to reduce risks, such as preventative health care, crop and income diversification and the establishment of safety nets, such as the European Community's food aid. The Community will support these actions and help to rationalise early warning systems and strengthen organisations.

Building more effective, accountable and decentralised institutions

The decentralisation of responsibilities and work is essential. The Community will work with public, private and local institutions as well as civil society bodies in order to ensure decentralisation and participation of the population with a view to strengthening institutions and the legal framework, if necessary.

Policy coherence and complementarity

In addition to development cooperation, many other areas of EU policy can help to reduce rural poverty. This problem should be integrated further into the following policies:

  • trade The actions envisaged include assistance to countries to end their dependence on the sale of raw materials and special treatment of developing countries in the new round of WTO negotiations;
  • the EC's common agricultural policyThe Community has undertaken major reforms in recent years but further progress must be made at institutional level and at Community level to ensure greater stability and market access;
  • common fisheries policyGreater emphasis must be placed on this sector. The sustainable management of stocks is one of the key objectives and one of the measures proposed is to strengthen resources management in developing countries.

Policy coherence and complementarity within the European Community and at international level are fundamental requirements. The Commission aims to assist national and local authorities to design, implement and monitor policies and activities to reduce rural poverty.

4) implementing measures

5) follow-up work

Last updated: 01.08.2005