This paper examines the early years of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its conceptualization of 'rural welfare', an approach that foresaw the modernization of agricultural societies and the alleviation of poverty through improvements in labor, housing, health, education of people working in agriculture. Based on the correspondence of FAO officials and experts, the paper shows how in the late 1940s, the Rural Welfare Division, under the leadership of its Director Horace Belshaw, promoted a lowmodernist and local-sensitive approach to rural development that emphasized the subjectivity of welfare and that was skeptical of top-down development programs. As the paper argues, Belshaw's holistic understanding of rural communities was abandoned in the early 1950s in favor of an increasingly technical development consultancy, characterized by short-term interventions rather than by an intellectual and scientific debate about the larger implications of development.