By Dr B K Mukhopadhyay
The time is ripe to show the real willingness and ability to devise and implement an integrated and sustaible development strategy, supported by a realistic region-oriented development plan, based on a typical of the identity, resources reflecting specific know-how of the territory concerned - the use of new know-how and new technologies to make the products and services of rural areas more competitive; improving the quality of life in rural areas; adding value to local products [in particular by facilitating access to markets for small production units via collective actions]; making the best use of tural and cultural resources, among others.
How long the ongoing situation will continue?
· Around 1.3 billion without access to clean water;
· about half of humanity lacking access to adequate sanitation and living on less than 2 dollars a day;
· approximately 2 billion without access to electricity
And this is in an age of immense wealth in increasingly fewer hands. The inequality of consumption (and therefore, use of resources, which affects the environment) is terribly skewed.
And the brunt is borne by the rural sector!
Result- rapid migration to cities is putting pressure on service delivery and leading to large urban slums, pollution, and environmental degradation. Rural development is the way out. Smart cities and clean villages have the capability to initiate changes leading to higher level of equilibrium.
It is well understood by now that poverty eradication is the foundation for global peace and security and quality of life for all. It is crystal clear today that vibrant rural economies are vital not only to eradicating poverty in rural communities, but also to economic growth in poor countries as a whole.
The question is: how public, private and civil sectors must work together, coherently and efficiently, to translate their commitment to rural development into policies, action and investments that improve the daily lives of the rural poor and at the same time enhance their power to chart and lead their own development into the future.
Incidentally, it may be mentioned that most common definition applied by intertiol organizations to separate rural and urban regions is that developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). The definition distinguishes two hierarchical levels of territorial unit: local and regiol. At local community level the OECD defines rural areas as communities with a population density below 150 inhabitants per square kilometre.
Clearly, there is no sp shot prescription simply because the process is quite complex where a number of variables are to be taken into account. Broad-based rural development [farm and non-farm sectors simultaneously dealt with] in developing countries must be founded on higher productivity by small-scale farmers. Secure access to land, water, technology, fincial and other institutions that support and reward efforts of poor farmers are musts, while at the same time better transport and communication infrastructure and facilities for storage, crop processing and marketing are needed so that higher yields and good harvests are not followed by a collapse in prices.
Small-scale performers need to increasingly organize themselves so that they can access markets and gain a stronger voice in decision-making processes. It is definitely noteworthy that intertiol agencies are getting increasingly in this process - both developing countries and donor countries are steadily recognizing the very importance of rural and agricultural development in the fight to end hunger and poverty. In Indonesia, for example, an IFAD project has been giving a section of the poorest people in the country the opportunity to make real change in their lives, by giving them the necessary support they require to develop and strengthen their own organizations. A good number of self-help groups have been formed, with significant members in some of the poorest and most remote areas of Indonesia. Through these groups, rural poor people are maging their own savings and group resources, and at the same time are being empowered to take the lead in their own development. The challenge now is to ensure that plans and programmes must be translated into more resources for rural development and poverty eradication and more effective use of these investments, temporally, spatially, functiolly and hierarchically.
It has been a fact that micro-credit programmes in South Asia have fulfilled a crying need of the rural poor and have restored their self-confidence. Bangladesh has shown the way. India has been on the rise on this score. In Pakistan the rural support programmes have also accumulated large savings by the rural poor which individual savers in the rural areas could never have done by themselves. However, micro-credit programmes have only a limited role in poverty eradication. By its very ture, micro-credit only addresses one of the various factors which condition the lives of the rural poor and cannot be turally expected to solve the very poverty problem in the larger sense. It is, therefore, not surprising that these Asian economies which has had perhaps the highest exposure to micro-credit, still remain encircled in poverty.
The reality: despite unprecedented and continuing economic growth over the past two decades, South and South-east Asia is still home for over 40 per cent of the worlds poor, the majority of them in rural areas. World’s two most populous countries [India and Chi] have more than two-thirds of food-insecure people in the region.
According to FAO assessments, reduction in income-poverty has not necessarily translated into food security and an important reason for this is that hunger itself is a constraint to escaping poverty, indicating a policy priority for targeted hunger reduction. The average per capita rural income in Bangladesh, India, Laos PDR, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand, is less than half of urban income. Similar glaring rural-urban disparities exist in access to basic facilities in most countries. For example: in Pakistan, rural literacy levels are half of those in urban region. While the gigantic tasks loom large, some of them are more interested in military build-up / investments!!
It is to be taken into active consideration that though higher productivity and output are prerequisites for sustained poverty reduction, yet the entire process would be very little effective in as much as in the absence of access to efficient markets, small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs in developing countries remain at an enormous disadvantage as most of markets are hostile or de facto iccessible to the rural poor. Resultantly, the efforts of poor farmers in remote areas of the world can be nullified by intertiol processes that remain far beyond their control.
The alysis would remain incomplete if the WTO is not referred to. The success of the latest round of World Trade Organization’s negotiations on trade [Doha Development Round] is very important - creating a level playing field for trade is an important step the intertiol community could take to fight poverty. Yes, the Cancun ministerial meeting was a setback, but the Doha Round [round and round indeed] must be brought back on track. Subsidies and protectionist trade policies of the industrialized countries have already been damaging developing countries. Industrialized countries’ export subsidies go on leading to distortions in the domestic markets of developing countries creating difficulties for local producers.
Obvious enough: agriculture would remain the largest employer, job creator and export earner. Agriculture has been the engine that has driven economic growth in many economies for centuries and it has rightly been viewed by Lenrt Båge that ‘for every dollar invested in agriculture, another two dollars is generated for a developing country’s tiol economy. It has been the often dramatic progress in agricultural development, translated into increases in productivity, that has generated increased income, which leads to savings and investments, and filly to greater demand for goods and services’. Three quarters of the world poor [about 900 million people] still continue to live in rural areas where they depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods. That is to say logically: the Millennium poverty target cannot be met unless the world effectively addresses rural poverty. Intertiol cooperation is a must.
As at this juncture maging the effects of climate change and disaster risk, rapid urbanization, improving governce and institutions, and encouraging private-sector led growth to create jobs, among others, are critical to reduce poverty and build shared prosperity. Countries also need to prepare for volatility and shocks, by expanding safety nets to protect the poor and vulnerable. The job is a big one and overnight change is impossible. A systematic planning and appropriate implementation only can lead to higher level of equilibrium.
Developing East Asia Pacific remains the fastest-growing region in the world, with growth seen at 6.9 percent in 2014 [though significant uncertainties remain].
So, why not to happen the same in the Indian subcontinent at a quicker pace? Forget about war and concentrate on development. Better late than never! Future will not forget and forgive…..
(The Writer, a noted Magement Economist, an Intertiol Commentator on Business and Economic Affairs and Director, Netaji Subhas Institute of Business Magement, Jharkhand, India, can be reached at email@example.com)