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April 2004

Rural population ageing and sustainable rural development: Report on a brainstorming workshop

FAO headquarters
Rome, Italy
12 December 2003


Population ageing – the growth of the proportion of older persons in the population – is one of the most prominent demographic processes of today. The theme is of immediate concern to developed countries where ageing is already well advanced. However, in recent years the process has gained significance also in developing regions where a number of countries have started to worry about the long-term implications of their ageing populations.

Population ageing has many important socio-economic effects. In rural areas, it has major implications for the composition of the agricultural labour force, patterns of agricultural production, management of natural resources, and consequently for food security and social organization in general. FAO has a long-standing interest in rural ageing and has identified work on this topic as a key component of its activities to encourage sustainable rural development. The Population Programme Service of FAO (SDWP) currently serves as the FAO Focal Point on Ageing.

On 12 December 2003, SDWP organized a brainstorming workshop, as a medium to gather ideas on how FAO could improve its role in conducting policy-oriented research, exploring appropriate agricultural interventions, and providing programme and policy advice to its member countries on ageing and rural development. The SDWP paper “Rural population ageing in developing countries: issues for consideration by FAO” served as the workshop’s background document. Several FAO experts in selected technical fields as well as four visiting specialists were invited to the meeting (Table A), to further the scope of in-house work on rural ageing and to contribute to the development of ideas for mitigating and action-oriented activities.

The main purpose of this report is to give an account of the one-day workshop. A related objective is to contribute to the ongoing discussion about the linkages between rural population change and agricultural/rural development.

Objectives and outputs of the workshop

The workshop had three main objectives:

  1. to discuss the implications of rural population ageing for agriculture and rural development;

  2. to identify research needs and explore ways of developing appropriate indicators;

  3. to suggest options for adapting rural development policies and programmes to the challenges and opportunities arising from rural population ageing.

The main substantive outputs of the workshop are summarized below in tables B-D. These ideas and suggestions should be seen as first steps towards categorising the various sources of data on rural elderly, developing a system of indicators to measure ageing-related phenomena, and devising appropriate agricultural policy responses. In this sense, the report is very much a ‘work in progress’ document. Its ideas will be further elaborated and refined by FAO, paying due attention to the vast diversity of circumstances of older persons and the different ways in which population ageing manifests itself in different rural contexts.

SDWP invites all those concerned with rural development in poorer countries to comment on this report. Received reactions and suggestions will be acknowledged.

Table A: Participants of the workshop



e-mail address

Cagiano de Azevedo, Raimondo

Faculty of Economics, University of Rome "La Sapienza", Italy

Coullet, Genevieve

Food Security and Agricultural Projects Analysis Service (ESAF), FAO

du Guerny, Jacques

resource person

Ekaas, Sissel

Gender and Population Division (SDW), FAO

Garbero, Alessandra

Gender and Development Service (SDWW), FAO

Herrera, Adriana

Land Tenure Service (SDAA), FAO

Heslop, Mandy

HelpAge International, London, United Kingdom

Jackson, Bronte


Kolberg, Solveig

Population and Development Service (SDWP), FAO

Muehlhoff, Ellen

Nutrition Programmes Service (ESNP), FAO

Ramasawmy, Seevalingum

Statistical Analysis Service (ESSA), FAO

Stloukal, Libor

Population and Development Service (SDWP), FAO

Tomassini, Cecilia

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom

Torhonen, Mika

Land Tenure Service (SDAA), FAO

Villarreal, Marcela

Population and Development Service (SDWP), FAO

Table B: Suggestions for analytical approaches to measuring rural ageing

Table C: Suggestions for sources of data on rural ageing

Table D: Ideas for adaptations of practices and policies


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