Who are the country’s poor people and where are they?
Poor rural people include women and men who are heads of households, small-scale farmers, landless farmers, microentrepreneurs, small merchants, agricultural workers and labourers for rural service operators. The poorest of the poor include Dominicans of Haitian origin living in the border areas. They are particularly vulnerable, and they suffer not only from low incomes and poor living conditions but also from social exclusion. In all groups, women who are heads of households and children are extremely vulnerable. Because they are without proper documentation such as birth certificates and identity papers, about 20 per cent of the poorest Dominican families do not benefit from most types of social assistance programmes.
The highest incidences of poverty and extreme poverty occur in the Dominican-Haitian border regions and particularly in the mountainous areas and also in the lower valleys where there is a high concentration of slums, called bateys, settled by extremely poor Dominicans of Haitian origin and migrant seasonal workers from Haiti who work on the sugar cane plantations.
Why are they poor?
The persistence of rural poverty is the result of several factors, including government priority given to developing the tourism, industry and services sectors during the last decade. Agricultural productivity is low, and government investment in social and productive development in rural areas is limited. Natural crises such as hurricanes and tropical storms are a recurring threat to rural zones and to the living conditions and incomes of the rural population.
The country’s poor farmers have little land and their production is too low to enable them to maintain their families. A large number of small-scale subsistence farmers and their families have to seek off-farm employment or another income-generating activity to supplement household incomes. In the Dominican Republic, as in many Latin American countries, extremely poor rural households increasingly depend for survival on non-farm income in addition to income from farming.
Low agricultural productivity is a crucial factor in rural poverty. Although technology is available and is known to some farmers, lack of access to financial resources and outreach systems prevent farmers from adopting the technologies they need to improve their production and their incomes.
But the profile of agriculture is changing, and groups of small-scale farmers are reaping the benefits of improved technologies to increase the production of vegetable export crops as a source of added income. In collaboration with the government, IFAD and other partners contribute to farmers’ diversification and to empowerment of their groups and institutions, with the aim of helping them develop new markets.