Almost half of Colombia’s rural population — 44.7% to be exact — lives below the poverty line, according to the country’s statistics agency DANE.
The statistics agency held a census in rural areas similar to 2005 when it measured that 73.7% of the country’s rural population lived in poverty.
In spite of the significant reduction in poverty over the past decade, President Juan Manuel Santos said Tuesday that the ongoing poverty level is still significantly higher than the national average.
Rural economic inequality led to major unrest in 2013 when hundreds of thousands of small farmers and farm workers blocked roads to demand attention for their precarious situation.
The persistent poverty is also seen as one of the causes of Colombia’s 51-year-old armed conflict between the state and mainly-rural leftist guerrillas, and the perpetuation of the illegal cultivation of coca, the plant used to produce cocaine.
“If we want peace in this country, peace begins in the countryside, the armed conflict is the product of the countryside, it’s where it was born. If we want long term peace we need to pay a lot of attention to the countryside,” Santos said at a press conference.
The administration has been in talks with the FARC, the country’s largest rebel group, since 2012 and has already agreed on a far-stretching rural reform that seeks a redistribution of wealth in rural areas.
“Fifty-nine per cent of agrarian production units own less than five hectares, which corresponds to less than 5% of the national territory. That’s where the inequality is,” Santos said, adding that “this is the concentration (of property) we need to correct.”
According to a 2011 report by the UN’s development program, 1.15% of Colombia’s population owns 52% of the country’s land.
Last month, when inaugurating a new legislative year, the president already announced his administration would be presenting rural reform proposals ahead of a possible peace deal with the FARC.