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Emerging Issues in Rural Development: An Issues Paper

Working papers

Written by Simon Maxwell

This paper lays out an 'argument' on rural development. The intention is to set the current debate about rural development in context, and then examine emerging issues.

The main elements of the argument can be summarised as follows:
i. Most poverty in the world is rural, and reaching the International Development Targets means giving high priority to rural development;
ii. The nature of the problem is changing, however, and will change further - contemporary rural reality challenges our traditional view in a dozen different ways;
iii. There is no shortage of narratives about - or prescriptions on - rural development. Past narratives have included ‘Community Development’, 'the Green Revolution' and 'Integrated Rural Development'. Current narratives include 'a new, doubly-green revolution', 'sustainable agriculture', 'rural livelihoods', and a growth-based, liberalisation-friendly narrative, which might be labelled the 'Washington consensus on agriculture and rural development';
iv. Embedded in these narratives are the critical choices about rural development policy: state or market; growth or stability; agriculture or non-agriculture; high or low potential areas; expenditure on investment or consumption; etc ... v. Different narratives will apply in different places, but all need to be consistent
with current thinking on development more generally - which not all are, for example on empowerment, the importance of income distribution, or the form and pace of market liberalisation;
vi. Furthermore, the prescriptions currently on offer do not always capture the degree and pace of change in rural areas, and new narratives are needed to deal with challenges such as globalisation, urbanisation, the 'de-agrarianisation' of rural space, the increasing diversity of rural environments, and the special problems of low potential areas - in particular, small-scale farming may be facing unprecedented and unmanageable pressures;
vii. In practice, there will not be one new rural development narrative, but several. For all, however, the building blocks will need to include special attention to: the growing diversity of livelihood strategies; rural poverty in low potential areas; the imperative need for stronger social protection; conflict resolution and management; the crisis of HIV/AIDS; and the need for greater decentralisation and devolution;
viii. There are challenges here to rural development donors, which will need to be met in the context of new aid modalities, for example Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and Sector Wide Approaches – the latter, at least, are problematic in this sector. There will also be special problems in poorly performing countries.

Simon Maxwell, Ian Urey and Caroline Ashley