Poverty and Inequality in Rural Latin America

Rural life in Latin America and the Caribbean has long been overshadowed by poverty and inequality in comparison to the urban centers where the majority of the population resides. The challenges faced by those in the countryside often go unnoticed, leading to neglect and a lack of concerted efforts to address their needs. This article explores the recent shift in focus towards rural life in the region and the imperative for a new narrative that recognizes the potential for development and connections in these areas.

Voices from the Countryside

Vicente Pérez, a Venezuelan coffee producer, sheds light on the struggles faced by rural populations: “Many people in our countryside simply no longer have a way to live, without services or incentives comparable to those in the cities, producing less and for less pay, under the threat of more disease and poverty.” This sentiment resonates across the region, where millions grapple with poverty and extreme poverty.

In Mexico, a study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reveals that eight out of every 10 rural inhabitants live in poverty, and six in extreme poverty. The stark reality is echoed by Pérez, emphasizing the urgent need for attention to the challenges faced by those living in rural areas.

A New Approach to Rural Life

In response to these pressing issues, experts from ECLAC and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) proposed a “new approach” to the concept of rural life in the region. Ramón Padilla, the project’s director, emphasizes the necessity for a fresh narrative that moves beyond traditional views, envisioning rural areas as territories with immense potential for development and interconnectedness.

Padilla highlights the importance of this new narrative in addressing inequalities in income, infrastructure, education, health, and gender. By recognizing the diversity and possibilities within rural territories, a more nuanced and effective approach to development can be formulated.

The narratives from different parts of the region paint a vivid picture of entrenched rural poverty. In Peru, where 20 percent of the population resides in rural areas, poverty affects 41 percent of this demographic. Lack of access to basic amenities like electricity and drinking water, coupled with economic hardships, illustrates the challenges faced by rural communities.

Regional Data and Inequality

ECLAC data for 2022 and 2023 reveal that out of the 676 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, 29 percent live in poverty, and 11.4 percent are in extreme poverty. While 81.8 percent reside in urban areas, where poverty stands at 26.2 percent and extreme poverty at 9.3 percent, rural areas face higher levels of poverty, with 41 percent of inhabitants classified as poor and 19.5 percent as extremely poor.

Gender inequality further compounds the challenges, with only 30 percent of rural women having access to some form of land ownership. Their jobs are often precarious and less well-paid, and they bear the burden of increased responsibilities in household and family care tasks.

Historically, Latin America has witnessed a massive shift from rural to urban areas, driven by the pursuit of better opportunities. However, new trends emerge, with people moving from the countryside to smaller towns or cities while maintaining ties to their agricultural roots. This shift, coupled with large-scale migrations abroad, challenges the traditional narrative of rural-to-urban migration.

Building a New Narrative

The ECLAC-IFAD initiative aims to overcome the binary view of rural and urban areas, recognizing the existence of different degrees of rurality and greater interaction between them. Rossana Polastri, regional director of IFAD, emphasizes the need for a narrative shift that acknowledges the challenges and opportunities present in today’s rural societies.

The initiative calls for collaboration with public bodies to design and implement policies for rural areas. Continuous dialogue with communities is crucial, translating the new understanding into participatory solutions tailored to each territory’s unique vision for sustainable development.


As Latin America and the Caribbean grapple with persistent rural poverty, there is a growing recognition of the need for a paradigm shift. By acknowledging the diversity and potential within rural territories, a new narrative can emerge—one that catalyzes equitable development reduces inequalities, and fosters sustainable progress. The voices from the countryside demand attention, urging policymakers and communities alike to redefine the approach to rural life in the region.