Aminadin, the Barani farmer, was waiting for progress to come by as he stood behind the same kind of wooden plow his ancestors have used for 2,000 years.

He intended, he said, to plow his six acres of sandy soil 16 times before planting his next crop of wheat.

With only his family cow and a scruffy looking donkey to pull the crude plow, it is slow, backbreaking work.

It is also counterproductive, according to agriculture experts. The plowing, they say releases scarce moisture into the air exposes soil to wind erosion and depletes natural nutrients.

Yet Aminadin continues to plow, because this is the way his forefathers farmed the same land for generations.

He is, at age 40, a tired and frustrated man.

"I can hardly feed my family anymore," he declared with deep emotion. "And if there's any need for money for clothing or medicine, I can't fulfill that need."

Aminadin, in many ways, typifiles the small farmers of the Third World. His farm is small, overworked and subject to periodic drought. It is located on the Barani plains of northern Pakistan, a long-neglected area that looks remarkably like South Dakota.

With proper management, Pakistan and U.S. AID officials believe, the area could make Pakistan self-sufficient in wheat and cooking oils, now two of its biggest imports. Fertilizer and new seed varieties, they say, can double present yields, and add an extra crop a year on some land.

The great leap forward for many of these farmers would be to switch from hoes to oxen. Or, in Aminadin's case, from a wood blade to a steel blade plow.

Aminadin has had one brush with modern agriculture. He put 50 pounds of fertilizer on one of his six acres last year. It increased his yield 30 percent.

But he won't use it this year. Although he knows fertilizer would more than pay for itself. Aminadin doesn't have the cash to buy it. And all of his attempts to borrow money have run up against walls of bureaucracy and corruption.

When he tried to borrow 500 rupees, or just over $50, from a state-owned bank this year, he was told he needed a revenue card certifying that he actually owned his land.

That seemed simple enough. The land has been in his family for five generations.

But when he went to the local tax assessor to get a card, the tax officer demanded a 10 per cent kick back on the loan.

"He told me, 'If you want a loan for 50 rupees, you give me 5. If you want a 5,000 rupees loan, you give me 500,'" Aminadin claims.

He refused. "No government department has ever done anything for the betterment of my life," he says cynically.

The history of the Third World has largely been the history of its farms and villages written large.

"The great strength of this country is that 90 per cent of the people are basically subsistance farmers," said one development officer in Tanzania. "They've survived for centuries, and they'll continue to survive."

But the vast Third World majority that still lives on farms and in villages is now in a time of troubling transition.

Despite massive development efforts, there is strong evidence to suggest that rural life has not improved during the last decade. Not only have rural areas failed to narrow the gap with their urban counterparts, the gap has increased.

Perhaps the most convincing testimony comes from Indonesia, where socialogists have devised a method to measure poverty using food supply as an index.

Their conclusion: while the number of poor has been reduced and living conditions have improved in that nation's cities, the number of "very poor" people in rural areas has increased from 34 million to almost 39 million since 1970.

The fabric of village life has also changed.

"People are forced by population pressures into increasingly marginal and underproductive activities and must therefore work increasingly longer hours to feed themselves," anthropologist Benjamin White writes in one report.

They have turned to handicrafts, small-scale trading, scavenging, collecting firewood, and vegetable farming.

The returns are pitifully low. One woman I met in a village on the island of Bail, for instance, said it takes her five days to make a basket that she sells for no more than 50 cents.

Children are frequently put to work at age six or eight to help support their families. As a result, it is not unusual to find that 40 percent of the primary school wage children in a village do not attend school. To fill classes, teachers are forced to go house-to-house recruiting students.

Women wash the family clothing in muddy streams. They carry drinking water, often for miles, in pots atop their heads. They cook meals, often little more than a maize bread and greasy stew, over open fires.

Men rise hours before dawn and work until dusk. It is not unusual for them to earn as little as $1 a day.

Families live dangerously close to the margin. One day, I visited four homes in the Bali hamlet of Kangin at about 1 p.m. None of them had any food on the shelves. All were counting on that day's earnings to provide the money with which to buy their evening meal.

A record book kept by the village chief was revealing. It disclosed that the village's 2,039 residents owned one car, 4 motorcycles, 15 bicycles, 30 radios and two television sets.

Traditionally, such villages have been closeknit, highly structured societies. People watched out for one another, the rich helping the poor.

But economists and sociologists at several universities feel that village structure in the third world is weakening. Joblessness had increased. Hundreds of farmers have been driven from their land.

Equally disturbing, development efforts in most Third World countries have helped large, rich farmers get larger and richer. They are the ones who have been able to take advantage of mechanization, cheap credit and new agriculture methods.

Faced with an ever-increasing shortage of land, small farmers and landless farm workers each year find themselves in an ever tighter financial squeeze.

The best land in their countries was put under cultivation generations ago. It has been divide and redivided until plots are no longer large enough to feed families. Many farmers have turned to moonlighting part of the year as hired field hands, or day laborers.

Millions of others have been forced to move their families into areas not long ago thought unfit for farming. In Tanzania, they have spilled out of the rich, crowded mountain slopes onto the near-desert plains, where the government has placed them in villages. In Guatemala, they have been forced into the tropical jungle, and pushed higher and higher into the mountains.

Each has his own story.

The man with the cough was 33, but his body was skeleton thin - his handshake feeble like someone twice his age.

"I've always wanted to advance myself," he said slowly as he sat crosslegged on the dirt floor of his home, a crude structure fashioned from mud and cornstalks. "My father had no land and he died with nothing. Now I have no land and I see myself following his path."

Everything his family owned was in this one dark, smoky room. There wasn't much: a couple of blankets and a few pieces of clothing in a pile, three cups, two pots, a large round plate for cooking tortillas, and a grinding stone.

The seven of them - he, his wife and five children - sleep on the two rough-hewn pallets in the corner, he said. They cook their meals, as many Mayan Indian families do, on three stones over an open fire in the same room.

He was deeply depressed. He lost his land near the remote village of Simajulea in the Guatemalan highlands a year ago when drought destroyed his crops. He had borrowed money to buy seed, then couldn't repay it. He still owed $300.

Now, he sharecrops a half acre of land, splitting the proceeds 50-50 with its owner. The only other employment he can get is working for other farmers at 75 cents a day.

Last year, he earned a total of $65. That was not enough to feed his family. "We only eat twice a day now. And we eat little," he said.

He and his wife, a small, beautiful woman with Polynesian-like features, suffer from chronic pneumonia, but have no money to treat it.

"I'm working hard," he said "but without food I can't build up my strength."

The great irony is this inability of many Third World countries - where the great majority of the people still live on farms - to feed their own populations.

Pakistan, where 59 per cent of the people are farmers, will import about one million tons of wheat this year. Indonesia will import about half of the rice available on world markets for exports. And Tanzania, where nine of 10 people live in farm areas, has been bailed out of severe food shortages two of the last five years.

During the 1960s, the much heralded "Green Revolution" kept millions in the Third World from starvation. By using fertilizer and new high yield "dwarf" varieties of seed, India doubled its wheat crop in six years. The Philippines became self-sufficient in rice.

But a decade later, the situation again looks grim. Production advances have slowed. Water supplies and new croplands are increasingly scarce. "The initial quantum jumps associated with the Green Revolutions cannot be repeated," critic Lester R. Brown warns in his new book, "The Twenty Ninth Day."

In addition, a set of "second generation" technical problems has developed. Some farmers have found that the new "improved" seeds that experts developed are less resistant to pests and weather than the old seeds. After a couple of seasons of impressive yield, some saw their entire crops wiped out by disease, pests or drought.

In Pakistan, which claims the largest system of irrigation canals in the world, farmers are struggling with another problem that experts say may cost over $1 billion to solve: their irrigated fields have become salty and waterlogged.

Planners are belatedly beginning to realize that tinkering with traditional agricultural methods can cause as many problems as it solves.

A study by Rudolf S. Sinaga, an Indonesian rural development specialist, found that each tractor brought into a village in his country "diverts 2,210 man-days of human labor per year . . . from the pockets of laborers to other destinations: the owners of tractors, the farmers, the tractor dealer, the tractor manufacturer abroad and the factory laborers abroad."

"Progress for one group in the Third World is disaster for another," declares Masri Singaribun, director of the Population Institute at Indonesia's prestigious Gadja Mada University. "We have to be very careful of any labor saving technology. Labor is the one thing we have in abundance."

A dramatic social change took place when Indonesian farmers changed their method of harvesting and selling rice.

Traditionally, rice was harvested by anyone who showed up at a field on harvest day. They would cut the rice with a small, finger knife called an ani-ani. Each harvester received a share, traditionally 10 to 20 percent, of the rice he or she picked. Often, hundreds took part.

Then in the early 1970s, farmers began turning over the marketing and harvest of their rice to middlemen. The middlemen hired their own workers and brought in new technology - hand sickles.

This made the job faster and cheaper.

But it also reduced the number of harvest workers needed by about half, according to a study made for the Indonesian Agro-Economic Survey. Hundreds of villagers lost a major source of income.

More and more of them began to look toward the country's overcrowded cities for work.

This migration from rural areas to the cities is repeated daily by those at the very bottom of the economic ladder across the Third World.

"Actually, people here are not much interested in agriculture any more," said Abdul Rashi Jatli, a prominent farmer on the Barani plains of Pakistan. "Everyone is looking for a way to leave."

"Why," I asked.

"They are living 8 or 10 miles from a main road without electricity," he said. "They have a shortage of land and water. They're drinking from the same pond where the cattle drink, where the dogs drink. People don't like to live this way."

"How can you expect a man to stay on thefarm?" he added "Where is the charm? Where is the charm?"