Dr B K Mukhopadhyay
It has been the stern reality that in this 21st century the rural regions are facing major challenges which arise mainly from globalization, demographic change and the rural migration of young, well-trained people. Policies for rural areas desperately call for recognizing and making use of strengths and opportunities.
At the very outset it may be mentioned that the most common definition applied by intertiol organizations to separate rural and urban regions is that developed by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). The definition distinguishes two hierarchical levels of territorial unit: local and regiol. At the local community level the OECD defines rural areas as communities with a population density below 150 inhabitants per square kilometre.
What the reality reflects??
More than half of the global population already resides in cities. This number is projected to increase, with 60 percent of the population living in urban areas by 2030. The U N rightly warned that half of the world’s increase in urban land will occur in Asia over the next 20 years and two of the region’s largest economies, Chi and India, will see the most extensive changes. In India, the loss of agricultural land to urbanization, aided by insufficient planning for food supply lines, will place a severe constraint on the country’s future food security for its growing population, the United tions Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) opined in its ‘The Cities and Biodiversity Outlook’ report.
Clearly, 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.
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 plan 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.
No sp shot prescription is there 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 and 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 microcredit 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, microcredit programmes have only a limited role in poverty eradication. By its very ture, microcredit 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 microcredit, 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 world’s 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, Lao 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.
Surprisingly, 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 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.
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. So, better late than never!
Empowering the rural population [that includes a large number of vulnerable groups, including women, indigenous peoples, fisher folk, member of low castes, and ethnic minorities], still remains a far cry. Women, as is well known [thanks to the African Proverb: without women we will go hungry] in particular are responsible for a vast majority of food production, household work, and care work - they are yet to be actively included in designing and implementing the programmes that will enhance the security of their livelihoods. Poor Educatiol facilities and awareness on this score stand in the way of achieving gender equality and equity. These, in turn, blocked speed of the ongoing efforts directed towards mitigation of regiol imbalances. Manpower wastage, marketing hindrances, idequate availability of quality inputs and magerial ineffectiveness, among others, just go on adding to sectoral and spatial imbalances.
(The Writer, a noted Magement Economist; Principal, Eminent College of Magement and Technology and an Intertiol Commentator on Business and Economic Affairs, can be reached at email@example.com)