Issue 10, August 2009
|Rural Anti-Poverty Programs|
Today, 80% of Mexico’s land is rural, but it is home to only 37% of the population. This includes the preponderance of the poor. Most rural dwellers lack basic services; a large number are malnourished; communities tend to be isolated from each other and from urban areas where the political and economic power reside. Not surprisingly, as OECD Rural Policy Review Reports indicate, Mexico’s rural areas are full of untapped potential such as young populations and under-utilized farm land. Efforts to improve life for the rural poor in the past few decades have led the OECD to call Mexico one of the “most important laboratories of rural policy innovations.”
One celebrated program that has been replicated throughout Latin America is Oportunidades. Started by the Zedillo Administration under the moniker Progresa and renamed by President Vicente Fox, Oportunidades is a government “social protection support network” aimed at breaking the cycle of rural poverty and empowering future generations to participate more fully in Mexican society.
The record of Oportunidades in Mexico over the past decade has been impressive both in improving the quality of life for rural residents and in combating the “culture of poverty” that traps families for generations. With money going primarily into the hands of women, it has also helped to further gender empowerment in a society often dominated by machismo, or extreme forms of patriarchy.
See Tina Rosenberg’s in-depth profile of a family in the impoverished Paso de Coyutla “A Payoff Out of Poverty,” in the December 19, 2008 edition of the New York Times Sunday Magazine.