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Speaking out on rural poverty

Bintou Sambou, 45, stands in the house she's building for her family in the village of Bignona, Senegal / Olivier Asselin - IFAD

Siobhan Warrington, Head of Oral Testimony at Panos London speaks about the latest collection of testimonies, that Panos London created, for the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) Rural Poverty Report 2011 that was launched on the 6th December.

For the 2011 report, IFAD commissioned Panos London to collect oral testimonies from men and women living in rural areas in China, Egypt, Madagascar, Pakistan, Peru and Senegal. The Rural Poverty report is published by IFAD every decade to draw attention to the issues around rural poverty. It highlights actions and policy to support the efforts of rural people in developing countries to overcome poverty and tell their story.

Panos London has been supporting oral testimony projects around the world for 18 years. Oral testimonies are the result of one-to-one, recorded, in-depth interviews, drawing on personal memory and experience. The interviewers are people known to the narrators, either members of their community or staff from organisations that work with their community. The process requires the interviewer to listen carefully to and learn from the narrator. For the narrator it can be empowering to have one’s knowledge and experience acknowledged by an external audience, to know that your story is important and can ultimately help others.

We believe that development thinking needs to include the voices of those who are most affected. In this case, it is the rural poor who are considered to be the real experts on rural poverty. It is the inclusion of their experiences and perspectives that help make this report complete.

IFAD’s main author for the Rural Poverty report 2010, Ed Heinemann claims that these testimonies help to convey poverty in vivid and personal terms. He believes that the collection brings forth insights not ordinarily found in academic papers, and he notes that a number of the themes pursued in the report were identified directly from the testimonies.

Listening to the rural poor is essential if we are to understand the changing experience of rural poverty and identify appropriate and effective solutions to enable people to overcome it. Testimonies can’t bring about changes on their own, but they can generate empathy to motivate policymakers and practitioners to justify changes in policy and action.

To see these testimonies in full, the summaries of all 30 interviews, and the full interview transcripts please visit the IFAD website: can also read the Rural Poverty Report 2011 at

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External links

2011 Rural Poverty Report by IFAD