U.N. says poverty eradication slows in Asia-Pacific
Saturday, 29 March 2008

REUTERS, NEW DELHI  - The rate at which poverty is falling across the Asia-Pacific region is slowing despite a burst of largely urban wealth creation, a United Nations report said on Thursday, blaming the setback on a neglect of agriculture.

A homeless man washes his feet in sewage water in Xiangfan, in Hubei province March 14, 2008.It argued that raising farm labour productivity and liberalising global trade in agricultural products could lift more than 250 million Asians out of poverty.

Farming still supports almost 60 percent of population in the Asia-Pacific region, the report said, and generates a quarter of its gross domestic product.

But, unlike in the 1970s and 1980s when the expansion of value-added agricultural activity played the largest role in poverty reduction in Asia, the beneficial impact of the sector is on the wane.

"Agriculture's lethargy has broken agricultural growth's historically strong contribution to reducing poverty," the U.N.'s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific said in its annual report.

Falling subsidies in some countries, rising input costs and pressure on land from industry have all contributed to the downturn, it said.

Two of the world's fastest growing economies, India and China, are still plagued by stubbornly high rural poverty despite increasingly affluent cities, the report said.

In China, half the aggregate decline in village impoverishment was in the first half of the 1980s. In India only 6 million people living in rural areas were taken out of poverty after 1999, a period of rapid economic growth, it added.

In South Asia, urban and rural poverty each fell by a meagre 7 percent during 1993-2002.

Comparatively, East Asia and the Pacific fared better with urban poverty falling by almost 50 percent and rural poverty by 44 percent.

"Growth has been concentrated in cities and regions where infrastructure and basic service delivery are superior," the report said.

It added that raising average agricultural labour productivity in the region could take 218 million people out of extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1 a day.

Large gains are also possible through the comprehensive liberalisation of global agricultural, which would unburden the region of another 48 million poor.

"But agriculture alone will not raise the region's 641 million poor people out of poverty," it said. "Developing the non-farm sector is just as important."

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