Time for a holistic approach to rural poverty

Can we be more innovative in how we approach rural transformation? That was the key question in my mind after attending a Side Event on the topic, part of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS) held in Rome this week.

The event, “Policies for Effective Rural Transformation, Agricultural and Food System Transition" aimed to discuss experiences of multi sectoral policy approaches for sustainable development, food security and nutrition and poverty reduction across sectors and developing regions.  It featured a panel of economists, policy and senior managers from development agencies including IFAD, the World Bank and the OECD. But the session left some of us in the audience wanting more and asking whether what was being discussed was truly innovative enough.

It was a big issue and an ambitious task: to discuss how structural transformation might lift the rural poor out of poverty. Nonetheless, the session could have delved more into agricultural and food system transitions, as well as looking at urban and rural linkages.

As one of those attending the session  told me afterwards, it was nice to hear the perspectives of the major organizations  represented on the panel, so that we are all “speaking the same language,” but she also the need to “build a bridge” between academia and the policy world.

In fact, the idea of rural transformation involving much more than just agriculture has been discussed in academia and policy circles for years. The discussions held in this side event, however, seemed to treat the concept as a novelty. 

Florence Egal, a nutrition and food security specialist formerly with FAO, felt that this reflected agencies’ experience in working on the production side of things. In her opinion, we must get back to basics.  The first step to successful structural transformation is to put strategies in context, said panelist  Mr. Henri-Bernard Solignac-Lecomte, from the OECD Development Centre. In other words, to explore the idea of ‘place-based’ development that often swirls around in political circles. This, for Ms. Egal, is key.

We must remember that there are already many examples of people implementing change on a local level.  As Ms. Egal emphasized, “we should have people looking very seriously at these [communities] and seeing how to scale out rather than inventing in labs further super-fortified foods [or other manufactured solutions]”.

Mr. Christian Mersmann, of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, observed there was a trend of switching from development partners, to economic partners. Wealthier countries are no longer looking to simply give away aid; they are looking to invest in those countries in which they see the most potential. Instead of donors on one side of the table and recipients on the other, the new paradigm sees both sitting next to one another, developing solutions together.

To me, this is back to basics. Structural transformation means taking a holistic look at the entire economic system and highlighting synergies that can be enhanced to make the entire system work better.  Instead of supply-driven development, we need demand-driven development. Listen to what the people want and develop accordingly. As Mr. Signac explained, “rural areas represent very heterogeneous areas – strategies must be too”.

Blogpost by Samie Blasingame, #CFS43 Social Reporter – samieblasingame(at)gmail.com

Picture: Hut in Amarapura, Myanmar (courtesy amanderson2 on Flickr)

This post is part of the live coverage during the 43rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

18/10/2016 0:00

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