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 to be more responsive, dynamic, and competitive. So, 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.
More than half of the global population already resides in cities. This number is projected to increase, with 60 per cent of the population living in urban areas by 2030. Very recently the UN 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, China and India, will see the most extensive changes.
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in its recent report titled The Cities and Biodiversity Outlook has mentioned that the total urban area in the world is expected to triple and urban population double, to around 4.9 billion, between 2000 and 2030. The accelerated urban expansion, the report observed in its assessment, will put stress on water and other natural resources, and consume prime agricultural land. The report makes a strong argument for greater attention to be paid by urban planners and managers to the nature-based assets within city boundaries.
In fact, in this 21st century the rural regions are facing major challenges which arise mainly from globalisation, demographic change and the rural migration of young, well-trained people. Hence, the need for pragmatic approach to development policies.
So far land use planning is concerned - the most important factor to invite innovations -traditional notions still dominate crop competition, demand from other sectors and the like have put the overall situation in a confusing state and the resultant effect is poor utilisation of productive land.
In particular, agricultural lands require top attention inasmuch 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 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, that country now loses 0.5 per cent of what remains of its agricultural land-a trend that cannot go on forever. The situation is similar in China. Indeed, since that country started industrialising it has already lost some 10 per cent of its agricultural land. In China, urban areas 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 occupies important areas for biodiversity and ecosystem services such as the wetlands or floodplains. These are mistakenly considered to be of marginal value by planners.
Next, due to interplay of a number of factors the incidence of regional disparity is galore. It is definitely a matter of grave concern that not only between the districts, but within the blocks also differences galore - in case of any indicator on this score - irrigation, fertiliser use, water use, productivity, cropping intensity and the like. The trend is to be mitigated.
Further innovations, including a drive for optimising productivity, subject to environment constraint, are the crying need for developing the integrated farming system.
Finally, 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 which 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.
GREEN ECONOMY AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT: The 'green economy' is: "An economy that results in improved human well-being and reduced inequalities over the long term, while not exposing future generations to significant environmental risks and ecological scarcities," according to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2012. There is no single model of the 'green economy', but multiple forms of locally specific green-economy activity. The key principle is that the 'green economy' is about seeking economic opportunities from socially and environmentally sustainable practices. Of course, making the transition to the green economy in rural areas requires political will, technological developments and encouragement from market pressures. In practice, the transition is likely to take place through a sequence of progressive steps.
That is to say: the rural development programmes (RDPs) can be an important vehicle for enabling the transition to a green economy in rural areas. The range includes support for business activities that have 'green' credentials and support to improve the environmental performance of farmers and foresters. Obvious enough: nearly every measure in the RDPs can be used to promote a wide mix of economic, environmental and social benefits that lie at the heart of the green economy. This can make the RDPs, if properly implemented, a very versatile instrument for promoting a transition to a green economy: efficiency in water and energy use; the supply and use of renewable sources of energy, by-products, wastes and residues; reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and fostering carbon conservation and sequestration in rural areas.
It is clear that cooperation has particular potential to support the transition to the green economy responding to the need to balance multiple interests and objectives. In other words, overcoming any potential or perceived conflicts between different fields of activity can be achieved by bringing stakeholders together in a common cause. Effective use of the cooperation measure can therefore be an important element of a shift in rural areas towards greener and more sustainable economies - development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Dr B K Mukhopadhyay, a Management Economist, is Professor [Management] at ICFAI University, Tripura, India.
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