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July 1979 marks an important milestone in the long and cliff cult struggle against poverty and hunger: the adoption by the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, in Rome, of a Declaration of Principles and Programme of Action. At the same time, the 145 governments represented at the World Conference gave the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations a mandate to assist its member countries in implementing the provisions of this important document.

The Declaration of Principles and Programme of Action constitutes, in fact, the charter of the rural poor. It points out that rural development is a global problem, which has to be tackled simultaneously on several inter-connected fronts: by the action of rural institutions, at village level; by the reorientation of national development policies, at country level; by the realization of a New International Economic Order throughout the world

Developed and developing countries as well as the international community as a whole must contribute to the immense effort required to eliminate rural poverty: the rural poor must be given access to land and water resources, agricultural inputs and services, extension and research facilities; they must be permitted to participate in the design, implementation and evaluation of rural development programmes; the structure and pattern of international trade and external investment must be adjusted to facilitate the implementation of poverty-oriented rural development strategies.

Growth is necessary but not sufficient; it must be buttressed by equity and, above all, by people's participation in designing, implementing and evaluating rural development programmes and policies.

In the final analysis, the responsibility for agrarian reform and rural development rests with governments and their people - on a political commitment and their determined efforts. But in order to be involved, people need to be motivated and encouraged to recognize the issues and to pledge their unswerving commitment to rural development, with particular attention to the least advantaged.

This publication is intended for scholars, thinkers and writers as much as for social and political leaders; it is destined to reach all those who can help to spread the message of the World Conference. FAO hopes that it will constitute a turning point in the history of man's struggle to conquer poverty.

Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations

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