About half of the Philippines' 88 million people live in rural areas. Poverty is most severe and most widespread in these areas and almost 80 per cent of the country's poor people live there. Agriculture is the primary and often only source of income for poor rural people, most of whom depend on subsistence farming and fishing for their livelihoods. In general, illiteracy, unemployment and the incidence of poverty are higher among indigenous peoples and people living in the upland areas. Overall, more than a third of the people in the Philippines live in poverty. The poorest of the poor are the indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers who cultivate land received through agrarian reform, landless workers, fishers, people in upland areas and women. There are substantial differences in the level of poverty between the regions and provinces and the poverty gap between urban and rural areas is widening. Indigenous people living in highly fragile and vulnerable ecosystems, people in the uplands of the Cordillera highlands and on Mindanao Island are among the poorest in the country. The causes of poverty in rural areas in the Philippines vary widely from island to island. Among the causes of rural poverty are a decline in the productivity and IFAD/L. Dematteis 2 Eradicating rural poverty in the Philippines Over the past two decades, the Government of the Philippines has singled out poverty reduction as one of its highest priorities. The current Medium-Term Development Plan 2004-2010 (MTDP) defines policies and programmes designed to fight poverty by building prosperity for the greatest number of Filipino people. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the country's central planning agency, worked closely with the government on the plan's 10-point agenda. The MTDP focuses on: • macroeconomic stability, with equitable growth based on free enterprise • modernization of agriculture and fisheries, with a focus on social equity • comprehensive development that includes protection for vulnerable groups, such as women, children and the elderly • good governance and the rule of law Since agriculture plays a major role in generating incomes and employment in rural areas, development of the sector is an essential part of any programme to reduce poverty. The MTDP notes that the agricultural sector alone cannot substantially alleviate poverty in rural areas. The plan adopts a more holistic approach to reducing rural poverty through the promotion of agribusiness. Development of rural microenterprises is a key element in the government's strategy. The MTDP gives special emphasis to the need for vigorous support for micro, small and medium enterprises and agribusinesses, because they are the most efficient generators of jobs in terms of jobs-to-investment ratio. A key strategy includes developing 2 million hectares of new lands for agribusiness, which is expected to generate 2 million new jobs and improve the productivity and incomes of poor Filipino farmers. The plan also aims to create 3 million microenterprises, providing them with credit, technology and marketing support. The plan gives priority to: • supporting rural enterprises and cooperatives • constructing more roads connecting farmers to markets • providing farmers and indigenous peoples with greater access to land, credit and technology • lessening exploitation of farmers and fishers • providing more strategic, effective and timely interventions and safety nets • improving the quality of life of poor rural people profitability of farming, smaller farm sizes and unsustainable practices that have led to deforestation and depleted fishing waters. Rural areas lag behind in economic growth and they have higher underemployment. This is partly because poor people have little access to productive assets and business opportunities. They have few non-farm income-generating activities, and people lack access to microfinance services and affordable credit. Some vulnerable groups also face specific problems. For example, indigenous peoples have high illiteracy rates and are affected by the encroachment of modern technology and cultures onto traditional norms and practices. Fishers face continuing reduction in their catches and they have few opportunities or skills outside of fishing. Women have limited roles outside of marketing and family responsibilities.
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