Our Historical Perspective

National Rural Support Programme
Rahim Yar Khan

The problems of the rural poor in Pakistan are many. These include low production, low prices, low incomes, low wages, meager savings and unemployment due to which the rural populace struggles day by day to fight against the never-ending abyss of debt and destitution.

In addition, overpopulation is leading to pressure on the capacity of natural resources, upon which the livelihood of the rural poor depends. Many millions live in abject poverty, marginalized from the mainstream and often hidden from the public eye. Apparently, the rural poor have no hope to improve their quality of life.

Development administrators of the ilk of Brayne, in colonial India, once held that the rural poor had only themselves to blame for their poverty and misery; ignorant, lazy and morally bankrupt.

An objective analysis of the rural poor has indicated that they are not a homogenous group but are differentiated with respect to socio-economic conditions, agro-ecological situations, and religious-cultural patterns. They also have certain commonalties such as; landlessness or small subsistence holding, isolation from the main economy, unorganized and leaderless, lack capital and have no access to credit, and lack of marketable skills.

The late Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan, an eminent development scholar of international fame called this the peasant mentality. In his view the poor in the sub-continent are mainly subsidy oriented, look for doles, are fatalistic and follow factionalism. These characteristic elements essentially translated into a lack of capacity of the rural poor to change their own lot. These are remediable defects, unlike the impression Brayne had, of the shortcomings of the villagers being irremediable.

Among the lessons that can be drawn from past efforts and the current situation of the rural poor, we can say that:

  • In order to make use of economies of scale in the production and marketing processes and compete effectively in input, output and capital markets, small farmers and landless agricultural laborers require incentives, opportunities, and the organizational capacity to develop cohesion, discipline, human skills, and the capital necessary to plan and implement development activities.

  • Many efforts in rural development have tended to increase dependence on development agencies rather than enhancing local capacity to conceive and undertake development activities in accordance with local priorities and opportunities.

  • The specialized agencies for training, credit, input supply, extension, etc. set up by governments are often hampered in their effectiveness and reach by the lack of a strong and broad institutional base at the village level.

  • At the village level, the utilization of different resources tends to be integrated systemically. Development agencies, however, tend to be organized on a sectoral or functional basis instead of following an integrated, multi-functional approach. To make optimal use of the village opportunities, it is important that villagers have the management capacity to integrate the assistance available from outside agencies with their own specific needs. Many efforts at promoting group cooperation and activity have been captured by special interests that seek only to maximize their own benefits. To meet this problem requires special procedures and discipline that ensure the participation of all possible beneficiaries and effective supervision of the development process.

Over the past decades, South Asian governments have taken various initiatives to create an anti-poverty programme. However, despite the allocation of large sums of capital and organizational effort, little seems to have been achieved on the ground. This failure at poverty alleviation can be attributed to the following major factors:

Following a development paradigm alien to the region, utilitarianism sectoral imbalances, conventional top-down strategies, ad-hocism, inequitable distribution of assets, inaccessibility to technological innovations and finance, lack of rural productive infrastructure, over-exploitation of natural resources, inadequate development of the social sector, the use of development resources as political patronage, and viewing the poor as a liability, therefore, to be shunned, ignored and disregarded.

This obviously led to the exclusion of a large number of rural poor from benefiting out of the government initiated programmes, hence increasingly marginalizing them.