Marked by deepening cycle of hunger and malnutrition, persistent poverty, limited economic opportunities, and environmental degradation, rural areas continue to be in a state of crisis in many parts of the world, threatening to slow the progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, global climate targets, and improved food and nutrition security, according to the 2019 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) released today by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
Rural areas remain underserved compared to urban areas and face a wide array of challenges across the globe: rural areas struggle with environmental crisis in China; severe agrarian crisis in India, and acute shortage of jobs for the growing youth populations in Africa. To overcome these challenges, the report calls for rural revitalization, highlighting policies, institutions, and investments that can transform rural areas into vibrant and healthy places to live, work and raise families.
“Revitalizing rural areas can stimulate economic growth and begin to address the crises in developing countries, and also tackle challenges holding back achievement of the SDGs and climate goals by 2030,” said Shenggen Fan, director general, IFPRI. “Rural revitalization is timely, achievable, and, most important, critical to ending hunger and malnutrition in just over a decade,” said Fan.
A majority of the world’s poor live in rural areas: rural populations account for 45.3 percent of the world’s total population, but 70 percent of the world’s extremely poor. The global poverty rate in rural areas is currently 17 percent, more than double the urban poverty rate of 7 percent.
“Rural transformation requires a holistic economic approach to connect rural and urban economies. Strengthening these connections can spur growth and diversification in the farm and non-farm sectors, closing socio-economic and quality-of-life gaps between urban and rural areas,” said Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme and co-author of the lead chapter in the report.
The report emphasizes that rural areas could become premiere hubs of innovations in just under a decade. It recommends revitalizing rural areas with a focus on five building blocks: creating farm and non-farm rural employment opportunities; achieving gender equality; addressing environmental challenges; improving access to energy; and investing in good governance.
Job creation is critical to reducing poverty in rural areas, especially in the rural areas of Africa south of the Sahara, where poverty is high and youth populations are large. Policies that encourage investments in rural transport networks, telecommunications, and human capital in African countries can prepare rural youth for new jobs in rural and urban areas, and bridge rural-urban gap, according to the report.
“Rapid urbanization in Africa is creating new opportunities for rural transformation and revitalization, mainly due to growing demand for food in urban areas, and investments in new staple food processing technologies as seen in the case of Ghana, Mali, Tanzania and Senegal,” said Ousmane Badiane, director for Africa, IFPRI and co-author of the report chapter on Africa.
In south Asia too, there is a greater emphasis on growth in rural employment, and agricultural productivity by strengthening of the agriculture-based rural nonfarm economy, said Pramod Joshi, director for South Asia, IFPRI, and co-author of the report chapter on South Asia.
To ensure all can participate and benefit from growth and transformation of rural areas, the report recommends investing efforts in reducing general disparities. “Empowering women can improve agricultural productivity, overall well-being of mothers and children, and increase their capacity to contribute to rural revitalization,” said Hazel Malapit, researcher at IFPRI, and co-author of report chapter on gender equality.
Beyond economic progress and human capital, rural environments must also be restored and improved to secure the many services they provide. “To engage rural residents as custodians of valuable natural resources, their rights to these resources should be recognized in law and practice,” said Claudia Ringler, deputy division director, and co-author of the report chapter on environment.
Achieving these policy goals require investments in good governance. The report identifies three aspects of governance critical for rural revitalization: appropriate and predictable laws and regulations; effective policy implementation and enforcement; and accountability of those in positions of power and authority.
This year’s report also features chapters on how Europe’s experience can provide lessons for rural revitalization in developing countries; food policy trends from Africa, Asia, Latin America and other regions; updated data on food policy indicators and more. The report is the latest in an annual analysis of developments in food policy around the developing world, based on the most recent available evidence.
“With perseverance, 2019 can become the year when the will to eliminate hunger and malnutrition finally gathers momentum, forging a bright future for poor people around the world,” said Fan.