Why emerging world needs a more rural-driven agenda

The divide is still largely being ignored in different parts of the world

Ehtesham Shahid
Ehtesham Shahid
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The rural-urban divide continues to be one of the most enduring challenges facing the emerging world today. It is omnipresent. It is widening. And it is still largely being ignored, in different parts of the world.

The divide manifests itself mostly in economic but also in political and cultural domains. In the emerging world it is leading to concentration of employment opportunities in few urban centers at the cost of more far-flung areas. It has the potential to influence distribution of wealth and resources to the extent of causing conflict. Another negative outcome of this is the apathy of those accumulating wealth in urban centers toward the disadvantaged.

Since seats of power around the world are getting more and more concentrated in urban areas, it is only expected that sometimes even genuine grievances of the rural world get relegated to the background. Call it a classic case of “away from sight, away from mind” this only furthers the gap between the haves and the have nots.

If urbanization isn’t solving all our problems, it is perhaps time to go back to villages and start looking for more sustainable solutions

Ehtesham Shahid

The first industrial revolution may have brought us where we are today but this rural-urban divide can also be tentatively tracked to that period in history. Without getting into the cost-benefit analysis of the revolution itself, one can safely assume that this divide is now beginning to assume alarming proportions, at least in some parts of the world.

A threshold was crossed in 2008 when we learnt that, for the first time in history, there are more people living in cities than in rural areas. The demographic trend is here to stay for now as extra two billion city-dwellers are expected by 2050. All this is the result of a rather lopsided migration of population over the years, from rural to urban areas.

Is it time to do more to reverse this process, at a mass level that is? If urbanization isn’t solving all our problems, it is perhaps time to go back to villages and start looking for more sustainable solutions. That would at least tackle the ruin man has caused to nature’s own carved out villages by building cities.

Farming for the future

Unregulated flow of people to urban centers, and the challenges associated with it, do not change the larger facts. World Bank admits that the challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050 – in urban and rural areas – can be met only through vibrant, productive and sustainable food and agriculture sectors, particularly in developing countries, where the bulk of food is grown and consumed.

There is also evidence to suggest that growth in the agriculture sector is about 2-4 times more effective in raising income among the poorest compared to other sectors. This is important for 78 percent of the world’s poor who live in rural areas and depend largely on agriculture to eke out a living.

Yet, agriculture is probably the most neglected part of the economy in regions such as South Asia, which has some of the most fertile land. So, in effect, these countries continue to undermine one of their biggest strengths. Interestingly enough, agriculture sector demonstrated greater resilience during the economic downturn which left an indelible mark on most sectors over the last decade.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) maintains that investing in agriculture is one of the most effective strategies for reducing poverty and hunger. Yet, according to FAO, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – the regions where hunger and extreme poverty are most widespread today – have seen flat or declining rates of investment per worker in agriculture during the last three decades.

It was heartening to see food security and agriculture included in the World Economic Forum’s nine key challenge areas for harnessing public-private cooperation this year. This is indeed urgent as around 793 million human beings – over one in every nine people – continue to lack sufficient food for an active and healthy life.

It is not a surprise that most of these people happen to live in the emerging countries.

Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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