Chapter 6: Agrarian reform and the politics
of rural change
Despite much of the urbanization we’ve been talking about this semester, most of the developing
world’s population is rural. The people of Africa and Asia are mostly peasants, poor farmers
living in a traditional culture. One estimate shows that close to one half of all the families in
Third World countries earn their livelihood from agriculture. It’s in the country sides where
some of the worst aspects of political and economic underdevelopment can be seen.
For example, in China and Mexico rural annual incomes are only 20 to 25% as high as urban
incomes. there are huge urban—rural gaps in illiteracy, malnutrition, and high rates of infant
mortality. The poorest nations, including Malawi, Rwanda, Congo, Bangladesh, and Haiti, the
percentage of rural inhabitants living in absolute poverty is higher than 80%.
Because of the size of the agricultural sector in the developing countries, it contributes to a larger
share of gross domestic product. Toward the end of the 20
century, agriculture constituted 35%
of the GDP in the poorest Third World nations, 22% in middle level LDCs, and 10% in more
advanced developing countries. It averages only 3% and highly industrialized countries. But in
spite of this the farm populations per capita output is far lower than the urban sectors.
In the developing world, political and economic power is centered in the cities. So government
policy as an obvious urban bias. Modernization theory argues that as countries develop modern
values and institutions will spread from the cities to the countryside and the gap between the two
will narrow. Dependency theorists maintain that the links between urban and rural areas, mirror
the exploitative international relationship between the first world and the LDCs. So one of the
major challenges facing developing nations is to resolve the political and economic tensions
between urban and rural areas, as well as reducing the inequalities within the countryside.
Rural class structures
Within the countryside, there are often substantial disparities in access to and ownership of
farmland. Especially in Latin America in parts of South Asia, agricultural property is
concentrated in a relatively few hands. These inequalities have resulted in rural poverty and
rigid class systems in countries such as El Salvador, Columbia, the Philippines, and parts of
India. African countries, with the exception of South Africa, Morocco, in Kenya, have more
equitable pattern of land distribution, but still suffer from sharp, urban – rural gaps and intense
rural poverty. Farmland is most equitably divided in East Asia, excepting the Philippines.