Rural areas have vast potential for economic growth pegged to food production and related sectors, according to the report State of Food and Agriculture 2017. The report was published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in October 2017.
Targeting policy support and investment to rural areas to build vibrant food systems and supporting agro-industries that are well connected to urban zones —especially small and medium-sized cities — will create employment and allow more people to stay, and thrive, in the countryside, which represents a strategic intervention, the report says.
Transformed rural economies will not necessarily be a panacea that solves all the pressures that drive people to relocate, but they will generate much-needed jobs and contribute to making out-migration more of a choice, rather than a necessity.
Growing urban food markets are a chance for the rural population
The State of Food and Agriculture makes the case that needed transformations in rural economies can be sparked by leveraging the growing demand for food in urban areas to diversify food systems and generate new economic opportunities in off-farm, agriculture-related activities.
This includes enterprises that process or refine, package or transport, and store, market or sell food, as well as businesses that supply production inputs such as seeds, tools and equipment, and fertilizers or provide irrigation, tilling or other services.
Already, growing demand coming from urban food markets currently consumes up to 70 percent of national food supplies, even in countries with large rural populations, the report notes.
But while urbanisation provides a "golden opportunity" for agriculture, it also presents challenges for millions of small-scale family farmers. Markets that are more profitable can lead to the concentration of food production in large commercial farms, to value chains dominated by large processors and retailers, and to the exclusion of smallholders.
Policies need to focus on family farmers, infrastructure and small cities
The study lays out three lines for action:
The first involves putting in place a range of policies designed to ensure that small-scale producers are able to participate fully in meeting urban food demands. Measures to strengthen land tenure rights, ensure equity in supply contracts, or improve access to credit are but a few options.
The second is to build up the necessary infrastructure to connect rural areas and urban markets — in many developing countries the lack of rural roads, electrical power grids, storage facilities, and refrigerated transportation systems is a major bottleneck for farmers seeking to take advantage of urban demand for fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy produce.
The third involves including not just mega-cities in well-connected rural-urban economies but knitting-in smaller, more spread-out urban areas as well. Indeed, the report stresses that smaller urban centres represent a much overlooked market for food. Half of all urban dwellers in developing countries live in cities and towns of fewer than 500,000 people.
Read more: State of Food and Agriculture 2017