David Suttie (International Fund for Agricultural Development)
By Karim Hussein and David Suttie
ROME and ACCRA, Dec 9 2019 – As urbanization continues apace, coupled with rapid population growth and rural to urban migration, the challenges for inclusive rural transformation continue, and the importance of fostering improved rural-urban linkages for better food systems becomes increasingly important.. According to the UN, by 2050 some 66% of the world’s population of 9 billion is expected to live in urban areas. Such rapid urbanization is increasingly shaping the rural space and rural livelihoods (through markets, demand for agricultural goods and labour, migration, and through the provision of services to rural areas). It is therefore critical for the increasing emphasis on urban development to take into account the importance of rural development.
Given the major transitions this rapid urbanization entails, the roles that rural economies and societies will play in creating sustainable and inclusive food systems require more attention in the years ahead. Rural-based populations are increasingly connected to urban areas and markets, but many are primarily engaged in informal sector economic activities – – mostly agriculture, mainly smallholder farming – with lack of access to basic service impacting productivity levels. The incentives for people in rural areas and for those engaged in agriculture to migrate to towns, cities and abroad in search of better jobs and income earning opportunities are very powerful, particularly for young people.
We were delighted to speak at the first International Forum on Rural Urban Linkages, held in Lishui City, Zhejiang Province, China from November 11 to 13th, 2019. Our contributions drew on work we have led in IFAD and GFRAS on sustainable urbanization, rural-urban transformations and food systems [see, the IFAD Research Paper on ‘Rural-urban linkages and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa’].
The theme of the forum was “Rural Revitalization through Innovations and Valorisation”.
The forum probed topics of rural architecture, innovations in tourism, agriculture culture and heritage, rural economic development, among others, focusing on systems thinking and innovative practices of rural revitalization in the context of ecological conservation.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda highlight the need to “leave no one and no place behind”. This includes promoting the inclusive transformation of rural areas, allowing rural and urban areas alike to simultaneously share the fruits of development..
In the session on ‘Innovation in Agriculture; Culture and Heritage’, Karim Hussein discussed the importance of agricultural innovation and fostering mutually beneficial rural–urban linkages to contribute to a more sustainable urbanization process, strengthened food systems and ultimately the achievement of the 2030 Development Agenda.
The role of agriculture and agricultural innovation is even more important in the context of global population growth. To feed the expected population of 9 billion people in 2050, agricultural production and productivity will have to increase dramatically. Innovation in agriculture is the only way to meet this challenge. Innovation – in science, technology, institutions, farming practices and policies – is essential to address the challenges faced in food systems at the global, regional and national/local levels, particularly in low and middle income countries, thus particularly for sub-Saharan Africa whose economies remain highly dependent on agriculture. Experience has demonstrated that effective dissemination and sharing of agricultural innovations requires the engagement of and partnerships between research, advisory services, public and private sector players (e.g. GFRAS).
The pace of innovation needs to increase to overcome the challenges faced by agriculture in the 21st century. The negative effects of climate change on agriculture, food and productivity have become increasingly visible and demand to be addressed address as a priority, particularly in the regions that will be affected the most – arid and semi-arid countries, such as those in Africa.
Innovation is fundamental to revitalising rural areas, creating attractive job opportunities and bringing prosperity to communities. Innovation is central to lifting smallholder and family farmers out of poverty, tackling unemployment for youth and rural women, and helping the world to achieve food security and the Sustainable Development Goals. Key innovations since the 1960s that have contributed to the transformation of food, agriculture and rural development issues have been summarised elsewhere (e.g. see Hussein 2019, ‘Key changes in international agriculture and rural development issues: priorities for tropical agriculture professionals’ in Ag4Dev 37 (Summer))
The potential of digital approaches to agricultural and rural development and ICTs, and the increased productivity, incomes and sustainability possible through their application have raised much interest. This is a frontier area through which urban and rural areas and people are increasingly connected. Digital approaches that enable automation, e-agriculture and ‘smart farming’, are increasingly using for example robotics, drones, self-driving machinery, sensors, digital imagery of fields and better weather and soil analysis to undertake precision farming must now be integrated into work on tropical agriculture at all levels from research through to extension and advisory services. Nonetheless, there are opportunities, challenges and risks that digital transformations bring to agriculture and rural areas that need to be constantly examined, particularly whether poor smallholders will be able to access such innovations and equally benefit from their application.
Strengthening demand driven approaches and empowering producer organisations have proven vital in all efforts to foster effective innovation development, dissemination and sharing, and uptake of innovations by producers – particularly smallholders and family farmers that constitute the vast majority of rural producers. The roles of social entrepreneurs, social and institutional innovation and public-private-producer partnerships to foster innovation are also key.
In the side event on “Innovation in the Rural Economy”, David Suttie highlighted IFAD’s work with rural youth to help them promote innovation and dynamism in rural economies. IFAD’s Youth Action Plan, commits to ensuring that 50% of future projects demonstrate benefits for young people, particularly developing youth capacities through vocational and technical training and business development services. For example: the Songhai Centre in Porto Novo, Benin, in partnership with IFAD carries out training, production and research by combining traditional and modern learning methods.
The Songhai model is based on an integrated system of production where agriculture, animal husbandry and fish farming interact with agroindustry and services, such as extension and advisory services. Young trainees learn about the importance of key values such as creativity, innovation taking initiative, competitiveness and building organizational capacity.
Social innovation is also important. For example: promoting women’s empowerment though the use of household methodologies; addressing land access and tenure issues in rural communities based on a better understanding of local institutions and customary systems of tenure; and the need to work in partnership with indigenous peoples and their communities.
One of the most effective means to ensure inclusive outcomes from growth and transformation processes is to create decent jobs that are accessible to groups who are often overrepresented among the poor, particularly rural people, women, young unemployed, migrants and disable people. This need is particularly pressing in SSA, where it has been projected that by 2025, 25 million young people will enter the labour force annually.
In conclusion, the goal of sustainable urbanization requires us to maximise the potential of agriculture and food systems as a normal part of a balanced development process.
Development policies need to systematically take into account urban-rural interdependencies. Cities, towns and other urban centres have key roles in stimulating rural development, but the connectivity of these cities and towns to their rural hinterlands and surrounding areas is often weak. Given urban dependence on rural areas and the roles of rural development in the broader process of economic transformation, development policies need to systematically integrate the rural dimensions of urbanization.
The multi-stakeholder approach and process of IFURL is timely and will prove to be of critical importance to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda over the long term in order to leave no-one, and no place, behind. We look forward to the next IFURL, planned for 2 years’ time!