As rural innovation is increasingly viewed as a complex process that defies simple solutions, it has become more and more difficult to identify the types of investment and policy interventions needed to make developing economies' rural regions more responsive, dynamic, and competitive. Hence, the requirement is there to identify where the most binding constraints to rural innovation are existing and how better to target interventions to remove such constraints.
THE REALITY: More than half of the global population live in cities. The number is projected to increase to 60 per cent by 2030. Very recently, the United Nations (UN) sounded a note of warning that half of the world's increase in urban population will occur in Asia over the next 20 years and two of the region's largest economies -- China and India -- will see the most extensive changes. In India, the loss of agricultural land to urbanisation, aided by insufficient planning for food supply lines, will place a severe stress on the country's future food security for its growing population as observed by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in its 'The Cities and Biodiversity Outlook report'.
No doubt, the policy shift towards integrated rural development has been there although at a snail's pace - reflecting a fundamental change so far as the objectives are concerned and a movement towards a more holistic approach to rural development inviting new tools of analysis. But the goings in the developing world cannot be given an excellent certificate as much as a number of inhibiting factors are still at large.
NO EASY GOING INDEED: The answer of course is a resounding no in as much as the development process itself has turned out to be more complex compared to the situation in a decade ago. It is virtually the urban-rural-management of integration process that would rule as the ultimate factor.
In fact, the rural regions in this 21st century are facing major challenges that arise mainly from globalisation, demographic change and the rural migration of young, well-trained people. Policies for rural areas desperately call for recognising and making use of strengths and opportunities.
It is not that in economies like India planning has been a futile exercise, but it is to be agreed upon that either plans are inadequate or implementation is poor. Supervision and control leave much to be desired.
Putting too much emphasis on agriculture and ignoring its linkages to the rest of the economy result in sub-optimal utilisation of resources. Integrated rural development provides supplements and complements to the farm sector, which, in turn, benefits all of the sectors - rural or urban. Inter-sectoral resource-flow starts zooming in such a business-oriented professionally managed environment.
MANY MORE CHALLENGES ARE BEING ADDED: Tinkering around the existing practices could not enable an economy to reach a higher level of equilibrium. Rural diversification, in turn, refers to the process aimed at reducing the risks of farming and is a logical consequence of the policy shift from direct agricultural price support - a synergy approach to rural development, incorporating both traditional network and institutional analysis, focusing on working mechanisms and processes. This paves the way for fostering cooperation between public and private actors to achieve sustainable development.
PLANNING IS A CONTINUOUS AND SPONTANEOUS PROCESS INDEED: So far as land-use planning is concerned - the most important factor to invite innovations - traditional notions still dominate crop competition but demand from other sectors has put the overall situation in a confusing state. The resultant effect is poor utilisation of productive land in the region.
In particular, agricultural lands require top attention in as much as sectoral competition may lead to diminution of farm land steadily in the absence of proper land-use planning. It will be pertinent to refer here to some global happenings. This is particularly serious in Egypt, where only 3.0 per cent of the total area of that country is of any use for agriculture, the rest being largely desert. It appears that every year, the country now loses 0.5 per cent of what remains as its agricultural land - a trend that cannot go on forever. The situation is similar in China. Indeed, it has already lost some 10 per cent of its agricultural land since the country kicked off industrialisation. Urban areas in China are increasingly encroaching on protected areas of the country. In the Latin American and Caribbean regions, where the number of cities has grown six-fold in the last 50 years, housing for low-income residents often occurs in areas vital for biodiversity and ecosystem services such as the wetlands or floodplains. These are mistakenly considered to be of marginal value by planners.
At the same time environmental concerns should have been considered and integrated during the planning phase of programmes of measures to support rural areas. A large share of policies targeted at land-use in rural areas should have served to promote agro-biodiversity and environmental measures in agriculture.
Side by side, it also remains a question as to why the TCG (Technological Consolidation of Holdings) model is not given due weight! Under this system, the individual ownerships remains undisturbed as such but the inputs/facilities that are extended are meant for all the owners who use their land for productive purposes. Accordingly, the rate for water use/machine use remains same and is calculated on total use vis-à-vis pro rata basis (i.e. keeping in account the actual individual shares).
Then, why not to recognise the local knowledge? Globally speaking: even the ancient combination of livestock and crop activities had helped farmers use the manure as fertiliser for crops, and the crop residues as feed for livestock. In place of this, now in many parts the practice has become less optimal - most of the manure usually lost up to half of its nitrogen content before it became nitrate and was readily available as fertiliser to plants. The quantity also became inadequate as the population increased, so chemical fertilisers and artificial feeds had to be purchased, eroding the minimal profits of the small farmers.
A CHANGE IN APPROACH IS A MUST: Yes, empowering rural population (that includes a large number of vulnerable groups, including women, indigenous people, fisherfolk, members of low castes, and ethnic minorities) still remains a far cry. Women are responsible for a vast majority of food production, household work, and care work. But they are yet to be actively included in designing and implementing the programmes that will enhance the security of their livelihoods. Poor educational facilities and awareness on this score stand in the way of achieving gender equality and equity. Manpower wastage, marketing hindrances, inadequate availability of quality inputs and managerial ineffectiveness, among others, just go on adding to sectoral and spatial imbalances.
Then what about access to services and infrastructure that should be available throughout the economy (drinking water supply, sewage treatment, mail, telecommunications, transport, access to broadband in the field of IT and telecommunications)? The quality of these services, however, differs from region to region. One field that urgently needs improvement is sewage treatment where, for economic reasons, the number of decentralised systems is growing. Furthermore, employment opportunities are not at all sufficiently available in rural regions. Then where are the various long lasting assets generating measures to improve the situation?
With the total urban area in the world expected to triple between 2000 and 2030 and urban population to double to around 4.9 billion in the same period, urban expansion would be putting tremendous pressure on water and other natural resources, and consume prime agricultural land. This piece of information makes a strong argument for greater attention to be paid by urban planners and managers to the nature-based assets within the city boundaries. Sustainable urban development, which supports valuable ecosystems, presents a major opportunity for improving lives and livelihoods, and accelerating the transition to an inclusive green economy.
Dr BK Mukhopadhyay is a noted Management Economist, an International Commentator on Business & Economy
and author of 'India's Economy:
Under a Tinsel Still Tough.'
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