With the number expected to increase until 2028, 3.4 billion people currently live in rural areas, with around 92% of the rural population located in developing countries. They are mainly concentrated in Asia and Africa. The situation is particularly fragile in sub-Saharan Africa, the only place where the number of poor has risen steadily in the last decade. Achieving the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will depend heavily on designing and implementing effective policies to lift millions of rural poor out of poverty.
A New Rural Development Paradigm for the 21st Century: A toolkit for developing countries outlines the components for designing strategies to develop resilient and sustainable rural livelihoods. The OECD Development Centre report was released during the 8th OECD Global Forum on Development.
According to the authors, conditions for individuals living in rural areas across the developing world are worse than their urban counterparts by almost any development indicator, from extreme poverty to child mortality to access to electricity and sanitation. The gap is widening and migration to cities is increasing pressure on urban areas, which in some regions already are experiencing high levels of congestion and are not producing enough productive jobs to absorb rural migrants.
The rural development experience of OECD countries provides key insights for developing countries, but it does not necessarily provide an effective blueprint. Developing countries are currently facing a very different and challenging global context characterised by high demographic and environmental pressure (especially in sub-Saharan Africa), new economic actors and institutions, and evolving technologies and information tools.
The report’s analysis is based on six country case-studies: Korea, Viet Nam, Thailand, the People’s Republic of China, Côte d’Ivoire and Tanzania. Patterns in these countries help outline specific dynamics and trajectories of rural development policies to close the urban-rural divide. Korea’s Saemaul Undong, for example, offers a unique development path that saw the country go from developing status to one of the fastest-growing OECD economies in a generation. The transformation was possible due to an unprecedented industrialisation process and a multi-sectoral rural development strategy that invested in agricultural productivity, soft and hard infrastructure, and improving the living conditions of the rural population.
The report argues that a shift in the approach to rural development is paramount. Rural development strategies should be multi-sectoral, leverage rural-urban linkages, involve all levels of governments, and include such key stakeholders as the private sector, international donors, nongovernmental organisations and rural communities themselves. To keep pace with ongoing challenges, rural development strategies need to factor in climate change, demographic shifts, international competition and fast-moving technological change.