By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, Nov 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rural poverty has risen for the first time in a decade in Latin America and the Caribbean, reversing earlier gains, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Wednesday.
Two million people joined the ranks of the region's rural poor between 2014 and 2016, taking the total to nearly half the rural population, many of them subsistence farmers and landless agricultural workers, according to a new FAO report.
"We cannot tolerate one of every two rural inhabitants being poor," Julio Berdegue, the FAO's regional representative, said in a statement.
"Worse still, we have suffered a historical reversal, a break in the trend that makes it clear that we are leaving our rural areas behind."
Rural poverty in the region fell between 1990 and 2014, fuelled by economic growth and a commodities boom that allowed governments to invest more in combating the problem.
But falling growth between 2014 and 2016 led to a small rise in both poverty and extreme poverty, the FAO said.
Poverty rates are defined and measured differently according to each country in the region. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as a person living on less than $1.90 a day.
Poverty is causing rising numbers of people, notably in Central America, to leave the countryside for cities - sometimes in another country, the FAO said.
"Irregular and insecure migration from the countryside is a social and political priority," Berdegue said.
"Its solution includes turning rural territories into prosperous and socially cohesive places."
Eliminating rural poverty is key to combating drug and human trafficking, as well as illegal logging and mining, which have been gaining ground in rural areas, the FAO said.
It said that while countries including Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have reduced rural poverty rates in recent decades, a huge urban and rural divide remains.
Nearly 20 percent of people in Latin America live in rural areas, but they account for almost 30 percent of the region's poor, with women and indigenous and black communities particularly affected.
The solution lies in increasing access to land, boosting the resilience of rural communities to environmental and economic shocks and more investment in infrastructure, including roads and water supplies, the FAO said.
"The countryside and the rural areas are key for the economic growth of the countries, for the development of their exports and for the employment of millions," Berdegue said.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.