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Workshop conclusions

Each evening during the workshop, the participants met in plenary sessions to continue discussions of the ideas that were presented that day by authors of case studies on rural development and agrarian reform, and to present, share and continue discussions from the round table sessions.

In the course of discussions, the participants reviewed the recent wide-ranging structural, economic and political changes which have taken place in different parts of the world. They recognized that in many developing countries and in the former centrally-planned economies, policies of economic planning have been replaced by a new economic liberalism with strong emphasis on market forces and private initiatives.

These changes provide new possibilities and challenges for rural development and poverty alleviation because of the opportunities created by political liberalization and the emergence of democracy and participation. As a result of market-oriented economic reforms, some developing countries have been successful in stabilizing their economies, reducing inflation rates and creating political and social stability. Some countries have gained from the devaluation of their currencies, increased exports and improved their balance of payments.

An effect of liberalization has been the state's gradual withdrawal from productive and commercial activities and more focused role in orienting and regulating rural development activities. These changes are frequently accompanied by a process of decentralization of authority and responsibility to local governments and local NGOs.

NGOs have clear advantages over government institutions, since they are generally in closer contact with target groups and are more familiar with local conditions, as well as human and natural resources. NGO's are more cost-effective and less bureaucratic. On the other hand, it was observed that NGOs can not substitute for government because they have no overall developmental framework and are engaged in specific projects which, even if successful at the local level, can not readily be transferred to the macro-level. In some African countries, NGOs have such a strong influence that they sometimes suppress the free operations of autonomous farmers' organizations.

While the participants welcomed the introduction of principles of democracy and participation in decision-making, they expressed concern that the current trends toward liberalization and privatization have had negative social effects, such as increases in unemployment and poverty, caused by the accompanying reduction of expenditures on health services, education and welfare programmes for the poor, as well as by increases of prices for imported commodities consumed by the poor, such as food, medicines and fuel.

In the field of agriculture and rural development, the new economic conditions offer a number of advantages for some sections of the rural population. It is expected that continued liberalization will raise prices of agricultural produce and enhance export possibilities. The participants recognized, however, that this development will benefit producers who have clear access to land more than it will benefit the rural poor and low-income groups who are net buyers of food.

The distribution of gains and losses among rural people also depends on the extent to which they are producers of export or subsistence crops or have access to land, labour, credit and markets. It is therefore essential for governments to target public resources and supporting services in these fields to the most needy, in order to prevent the worsening of the economic situation of the rural population. The workshop agreed that governments have to play an important role in this process in order to preclude the exploitation of the weaker sections of society by the stronger ones.

The participants have learned from their own development experiences that while part of structural adjustment programmes, such as the withdrawal of input subsidies and the establishment of remunerative prices for output, can improve the efficiency of agriculture, the acceleration of agricultural growth alone will not alleviate poverty. Agricultural growth takes too long to benefit the present generation of the poor.

There was general agreement that development depends to a large extent on good governance, adequate institutions and on people's participation in decision-making and political consensus, although the right delineation between public and private participation is difficult to define.

Land reform can reduce poverty and inequality rapidly, and at the same time relieve pressure on marginal and ecologically fragile lands, particularly in countries where agricultural land is concentrated in a small number of holdings. However, land reform is not the panacea for solving all social problems in rural areas; it is difficult to implement because land ownership reflects a nation's power structure.

As little progress can be expected in the field of land redistribution programmes in a market economy, the workshop discussed alternatives to land redistribution programmes and recommended that land tenure questions be tackled indirectly, i.e. through the reduction of input subsidies, the introduction or increase of a land tax, and support of a smoothly-functioning land market that enables low-income peasants to purchase land.

The recognition of traditional land rights and the enforcement of these rights can provide the assurances needed for the poor to broaden their options for resource management. The workshop pointed out that traditional land tenure arrangements, such as common property regimes, are important for the sustainable use of natural resources. On the other hand, privatization of pastoral lands is in contradiction to customary rules and has frequently had negative ecological effects.

One reason many anti-poverty programmes have had limited success in achieving their objectives has been the general lack of participation of the poor in designing and implementing these programmes. Furthermore, it was noted that many anti-poverty programmes have failed to define their target groups.

Participatory research on the actual causes of poverty would ensure the meaningful involvement of the intended beneficiaries, which would make anti-poverty programmes more sustainable and successful. The workshop recommended that these programmes target disadvantaged groups such as ethnic minorities, landless, refugees, the unemployed, women and victims of natural calamities. Short-term interventions such as food aid may be necessary to offset the negative impact of emergencies, however these interventions should be for limited periods, to avoid creating dependencies on external aid. Long-term interventions, such as investments in infrastructure and secure access of the poor to education and health services, are needed for sustainable poverty alleviation.

In some countries, particularly in Latin America and in the Pacific, there is more absolute poverty in urban than in rural areas. While rural areas have less access to services, prevailing social relations provide informal social security and prevent the poor from falling into a state of destitution. On the other hand, the urban migration of the young and able-bodied has reduced the vitality of rural areas. It was pointed out that rural areas provide a safety net for the poor, but this is not the case in urban centres. It was also pointed out that migration involves elements of civilization and that rural society has the biased image of being non-civilized.

In the process of changing from a centrally-planned economy to a market economy, it is easier to establish new institutions than to change the attitudes and behaviour of the rural population.

The participants recognized that a new paradigm of rural development should include:

· re-vitalization of the rural areas, not only improvement of the agricultural sector, but the overall economic and social situation in the villages;

· promotion of sustainable development; and

· diversification of agricultural production, including the creation of non-farm rural employment.

The participants appreciated the opportunity to exchange views and experiences on recent trends in rural development and agrarian reform strategies within the workshop's international forum and expressed a strong desire to maintain the contacts they had established during the workshop.

They urged FAO to provide support for follow-up activities including exchange of information and the organization of similar meetings at regional and global level, and to provide a page on the Internet divided into the nine topics discussed in the round tables of the workshop. FAO was invited to monitor the development of an e-mail exchange on this page and provide hard copies to those participants without e-mail access.

The participants expressed their deep appreciation to the organizers of the workshop, the Department of Rural Sociology of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Gödöllö, for the efficient organization of the meeting and the warm hospitality extended to them. They also thanked FAO for conceiving and funding the workshop which enhanced the exchange of information and experiences among young researchers and rural development specialists from developing countries and countries in transition.

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