Dr Patrick Caron, Chair of the steering committee of the Conference, CIRAD at the Opening Ceremony.
Photo: © CIRAD

Rural territories to change the world

Participants at CIRAD’s “Living Territories 2018” conference agreed on the need to adopt a territorial perspective in addressing development. Furthermore, they stressed that rural territories were still important in achieving the SDGs.

What is the role of rural territories? And how can they help meet the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations? These and more questions were discussed at the conference Living Territories 2018: using rural territories to change the world, organised by CIRAD in Montpellier, France, from the 22nd to the 24th January 2018.

The discussion was based on the results referred to in the book “Living territories to transform the world”, which was published in the Agricultures et Défis du Monde collection (Editions Quae), co-ordinated by CIRAD and the Agence Française de Développement.

Our increasingly globalised, uncertain world has raised interest in the term “territory”, a type of area within which new forms of governance and solidarity are constantly being invented.

Rural territories play an important role in achieving the SDGs

Rural areas have seen a constant fall in population levels, yet almost half of the world’s people still live in them. Therefore, when the issue of sustainable development is discussed, international actors frequently focus on the burgeoning cities.  More than half of humanity now lives in cities, and the UN estimates that cities will hold two thirds of the world's population by 2050.

“But today it is still too early to forget that the other half continues to be rural, and this rural population is still growing in a large number of countries,” said Elodie Valette, a scientist working at CIRAD. Valette noted that an urban-centric perspective gave too little consideration to the relationship between urban and rural areas. “It tends to forget the probability that cities will not remain peaceful without a prosperous countryside,” she said, adding that in spite of the predictions of inevitable rural depopulation and the concentration of agricultural production in specific regions, rural areas were innovating and transforming.

The rural territories play a major role in achieving the SDGs. For example, the SDG 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries includes the following target: by 2030, progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average. Achieving this SDG will require targeted interventions in the marginalised and fragile rural territories where the targeted population often lives.

Adopting a territorial perspective to think about development

“Urban and rural are not static constructs – nor should the concepts to represent them be so,” said Julio Berdegue, Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, at the conference.

The participants agreed that three different facts called for the adoption of a territorial perspective in thinking about development: the processes of rural transformation, particularly the blurring of "rural" and "urban" categories, the diversification of rural activities and the reshaping of interactions between local, national and global dynamics. The aim was to develop territorial approaches to better understand the structural changes at work and to propose action plans and adapted public policies.

According to Valette, developing territorial approaches does not mean neglecting sectoral approaches, but rather complementing and reinforcing their positive effects. It is also about building bridges with other approaches that have strong similarities with territorial-based ones, like integrated landscape management for example, as well as with approaches more focused on mobility, migration and networks.

Explosion of information marked the construction of territories

Further the conference discussion focused on the need to produce new methods and scientific knowledge on territorial development processes. In recent years, the explosion of available territorial information and the participation of actors have marked the construction of territories, thanks to digital developments like open data sources, new sensors, crowd sourcing, digital traces, etc.

Many instruments, tools, procedures and mechanisms have been experimented and implemented. While they offer data and information sourcing and production, processing, organisation and publication, they also provide scope for users, their dialogue and consultation. The question is whether we are truly in an ideal process in which territorial actors obtain information on appropriate territorial issues? And if so, do they develop relevant action plans that are subsequently recognised by the authorities?

According to Valette, one future challenge will be making sure that the huge amount of available information is useful and that this information is used in an effective way.

More information at the conference website

Download the book Living territories to transform the world

Ines Lechner, Editor Rural 21