Rural development

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A rural development academy in Bogra, Bangladesh. Many government and non-governmental agencies invest in capacity building and opportunities for rural communities to gain greater access to economic opportunities.

Rural development is the process of improving the quality of life and economic well-being of people living in rural areas, often relatively isolated and sparsely populated areas.[1] Often, rural regions have experienced rural poverty, poverty greater than urban or suburban economic regions due to lack of access to economic activities, and lack of investments in key infrastructure such as education.

Rural development has traditionally centered on the exploitation of land-intensive natural resources such as agriculture and forestry. However, changes in global production networks and increased urbanization have changed the character of rural areas. Increasingly rural tourism, niche manufacturers, and recreation have replaced resource extraction and agriculture as dominant economic drivers.[2] The need for rural communities to approach development from a wider perspective has created more focus on a broad range of development goals rather than merely creating incentive for agricultural or resource-based businesses.

Education, entrepreneurship, physical infrastructure, and social infrastructure all play an important role in developing rural regions.[3] Rural development is also characterized by its emphasis on locally produced economic development strategies.[4] In contrast to urban regions, which have many similarities, rural areas are highly distinctive from one another. For this reason there are a large variety of rural development approaches used globally.[5]

Rural poverty[edit]

Gustave Courbet depicted nineteenth century rural poverty in this painting.

Rural poverty refers to situations where people living in non-urban regions are in a state or condition of lacking the financial resources and essentials for living. It takes account of factors of rural society, rural economy, and political systems that give rise to the marginalization and economic disadvantage found there.[6] Rural areas, because of their small, spread-out populations, typically have less well maintained infrastructure and a harder time accessing markets, which tend to be concentrated in population centers.

Rural communities also face disadvantages in terms of legal and social protections, with women and marginalized communities frequently having a harder time accessing land, education and other support systems that help with economic development. Several policies have been tested in both developing and developed economies, including rural electrification and access to other technologies such as internet, gender parity, and improved access to credit and income.

In academic studies, rural poverty is often discussed in conjunction with spatial inequality, which in this context refers to the inequality between urban and rural areas.[7] Both rural poverty and spatial inequality are global phenomena, but like poverty in general, there are higher rates of rural poverty in developing countries than in developed countries.[8]

Many parts of rural Africa, such as this community in Mozambique, experience rural poverty. This woman was given access to a bicycle through a rural development program through a Bicycle poverty reduction program. Access to affordable transportation has been a key part of gaining access to greater economic mobility in many parts of the world. For example, distributing bicycles was one of the key strategies used by China to reduce rural poverty in the 20th century.[9]

Eradicating rural poverty through effective policies and economic growth is a continuing difficulty for the international community, as it invests in rural development.[8][10] According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, 70 percent of the people in extreme poverty are in rural areas, most of whom are smallholders or agricultural workers whose livelihoods are heavily dependent on agriculture.[11] These food systems are vulnerable to extreme weather, which is expected to affect agricultural systems the world over more as climate change increases.[12][13]

Thus the climate crisis is expected to reduce the effectiveness of programs reducing rural poverty and cause displacement of rural communities to urban centers.[12][13] Sustainable Development Goal 1: No Poverty sets international goals to address these issues, and is deeply connected with investments in a sustainable food system as part of Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger.[14][15]

Approaches to development[edit]

Rural development actions are intended to further the social and economic development of rural communities.[16][17]

Rural development programs were historically top-down approaches from local or regional authorities, regional development agencies, NGOs, national governments or international development organizations.[18] However, a critical 'organization gap' identified during the late 1960s, reflecting on the disjunction between national organizations and rural communities led to a great focus on community participation in rural development agendas.[18] Oftentimes this was achieved through political decentralization policies in developing countries, particularly popular among African countries, or policies that shift the power of socio-politico-economic decision-making and the election of representatives and leadership from centralized governments to local governments.[19] As a result, local populations can also bring about endogenous initiatives for development. The term rural development is not limited to issues of developing countries. In fact many developed countries have very active rural development programs.[citation needed]

Rural development aims at finding ways to improve rural lives with the participation of rural people themselves, so as to meet the required needs of rural communities.[20] The outsider may not understand the setting, culture, language and other things prevalent in the local area. As such, rural people themselves have to participate in their sustainable rural development. In developing countries like Nepal, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, integrated development approaches are being followed up.[21] In this context, many approaches and ideas have been developed and implemented, for instance, bottom-up approaches, PRA- Participatory Rural Appraisal, RRA- Rapid Rural Appraisal, Working With People (WWP),[22] etc. The New Rural Reconstruction Movement in China has been actively promoting rural development through their ecological farming projects.[23][24]

The role of NGOs/non-profits in developing countries[edit]

Because decentralization policies made development problems the responsibility of local governments, it also opened the door for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), nonprofits, and other foreign actors to become more involved in the approach to these issues. For example, the elimination of statist approaches to development caused an exponential increase in the number of NGOs active in Africa, and additionally caused them to take on increasingly important roles. Consequently, nonprofits and NGOs are also greatly involved in the provisioning of needs in developing countries and they play an increasingly large role in supporting rural development.[25][19]

These organizations are often criticized for taking over responsibilities that are traditionally carried out by the state, causing governments to become ineffective in handling these responsibilities over time. Within Africa, NGOs carry out the majority of sustainable building and construction through donor-funded, low-income housing projects.[26] Furthermore, they are often faulted for being easily controlled by donor money and oriented to serve the needs of local elites above the rest of the population.[27] As a result of this critique, many NGOs have started to include strategies in their projects that promote community participation.[28]

Many scholars argue that NGOs are an insufficient solution to a lack of development leadership as a result of decentralization policies. Human rights expert Susan Dicklitch points to the historical context of colonialism, organization-specific limitations, and regime restraints as hindrances to the promises of NGOs.[29] She notes that “NGOs are increasingly relegated to service provision and gap-filling activities as by the retreating state, but those supportive functions are not matched with increased political efficacy”.[29]

International examples[edit]

Rural development in Uganda[edit]

In Uganda specifically, several mid-century centrist administrations, particularly the regimes of Idi Amin (1971–1979) and Milton Obote (1981–1986), described as brutal and ineffective led to a sharp drop in responsiveness to citizen's needs between 1966 and 1986.[19][25] As a result of these administrations, several constraints were placed on local governments that prevented effective development initiatives: every single employee in local governments had to be appointed by the president, all local budgets and bylaws had to be approved by the Minister of Local Government, and this Minister could dissolve any local government council.[25]

Because of the several shortcomings of the dictatorial government in promoting the participation of citizens in local development efforts, a decentralization campaign was officially launched in Uganda in 1992, with its legislative culmination occurring in 1997 with the passing of the Local Governments Act. This act led to the transfer of power to local governments in an attempt to encourage citizen participation and further rural development.[25] Regarding funding under the decentralization structure, local governments receive a majority of their funds in block grants from the national government, mostly as conditional grants but with some unconditional and equalization grants administered as well. Furthermore, local governments were given the power to collect taxes from their constituents, however, this usually only accounts for less than 10 percent of the local government's budget.[27]

Debates in decentralization efforts in Uganda[edit]

Some scholars express concern that decentralization efforts in Uganda may not actually be leading to an increase in participation and development. For example, despite increases over the years in local councils and civil society organizations (CSOs) in rural Uganda, efforts are consistently undermined by a lacking socio-economic structure leading to high rates of illiteracy, poor agricultural techniques, market access, and transportation systems.[27] These shortcomings are often a result of taxes and payments imposed by local authorities and administration agents that inhibit farmers' access to larger markets.[27] Furthermore, the overall financial strength of local governments is considerably weaker than that of the national government, which adversely affects their responsiveness to the needs of their citizens and success in increasing participation in community development initiatives.[27] Finally, civil society organizations are often ineffective in practice at mobilizing for the community's interests.[27] Dr. Umar Kakumba, a scholar at Makerere University in Uganda, notes of CSOs:[27]

The CSOs’ inability to effectively mobilize for and represent the local community’s interests is linked to the disabling regulatory environment with cumbersome and elaborate procedures for registration and restrictions on what constitutes allowable advocacy activities; their desire to complement the work of government rather than questioning it; the difficulties in raising adequate resources from their membership; the inability to exercise internal democracy and accountability; the urban/elite orientation of most NGOs; and the donor funding that encourages a number of CSOs to emerge in order to clinch a share of the donor monies.


Since independence, several rural development and extension education programs have been implemented in Nigeria.[30]

In Nigeria, several subsequent governments have implemented different policies in an attempt to develop the rural areas and alleviate the poverty rate that has become a prominent decadence in such areas. However, very little success has been recorded so far.

The first National Development plan spanned between the years 1962–1968, with agriculture being the major priority. The major objective was developing and expanding the production and export of cash crops. But this plan only provided 42% of the capital budget to Agriculture.

It looked to maintain, and if possible, surpass the average rate of growth of 4% per year of its gross domestic product at constant prices.[citation needed] The plan was launched in 1962, two years after independence, and looked to bring about equal distributions of national income; to speed up the rate of economic growth; to generate savings for investments so as to reduce its dependence on external capital for the development of the nation; to get enough capital for the development of manpower; to increase the standard of living of the masses particularly in respect of food, housing, health and clothing and to develop the infrastructure of the nation.[citation needed] Examples such as the Niger Dam show the scope of this ambition.[citation needed] Additionally, the plan aimed to have greater cooperation between public and private sectors, as well as federal and regional governments.[citation needed]

The Plan looked to address Nigeria's newfound postcolonial independence from the British Empire. Under Britain, Nigeria served British interests through the supply of raw material, including agricultural products such as groundnuts, palm oil, and cocoa, which were required by British factories.[citation needed] Furthermore, the plan had to focus on agriculture, as it was still a significant sector of Nigeria's economic, employing a large proportion of the country's population, and a significant contribution to GDP. This was manifest with a yearly investment of 15% of Nigeria's gross national product.[citation needed] This would contribute to a minimum growth rate of 4% annually.[citation needed]

Ultimately, the First National Development Plan failed, the Nigerian government did not provide the amenities which were promised to farmers. Limited resources could not match the ambitions of the plan, with all four allocated settlements under the plan having no storage facilities, electricity, pipe borne water, health centres nor recreational facilities.[31]

In 1970, the second National Development plan was launched by General Yakubu Gowon and it lasted until 1974. Its focus was on balancing the difference between rural and urban development while making an attempt to rectify some of the shortcomings that trailed the first development plan.

Following the Civil War (1967–1970), Nigeria faced the critical need for national reconstruction and the establishment of a united and egalitarian society. The Second National Development Plan was launched to address growing challenges of regional imbalances and promote national reconstruction. This plan differed from previous ones by incorporating a democratic approach, involving stakeholders at various governance levels.[citation needed] This stands out from typical development plans that might be crafted by a central government without considering the input of various groups within the country. The plan received a total funding of ₦71,447,000 naira.[citation needed] Its goals encompassed building a strong nation, fostering social equity, and creating a dynamic economy with ample opportunities. Notably, the plan prioritised reducing the disparity between urban and rural areas.[citation needed]

The initial budget of the plan was ₦3.2 billion naira, but due to the oil boom, it was increased to ₦5.3 billion naira.[citation needed] This oil revenue surge, however, had mixed consequences. While the plan offered increased government revenue and potential for modernisation, it also led to a decline in focus on agriculture, the mainstay of the rural economy. This phenomenon is similar to the concept of Dutch Disease, which describes how the exploitation of a sudden and large natural resource wealth can negatively affect other sectors of the economy. Additionally, mismanagement of revenue made from oil further hampered progress of the plan. The political climate during this period was unstable with several military coups in the 1960s and early 1970s that made rural development efforts challenging.[citation needed] These coups disrupted long-term planning, diverted resources away from agriculture towards military spending, and created uncertainty for investors, hindering investment in the agricultural sector.

Akpabio (2010) argued that the failure of many public policies and programs in Nigeria can be attributed to a disregard for the specific socio-ecological factors within local communities during their execution.[32] This instability, coupled with a lack of continuity between administrations, meant that projects initiated by one government were often not continued by the next.[citation needed] These factors all contributed to the challenges of implementing the Second National Development Plan.

The Third National Development plan spanned between 1975 and 1980. It made bigger and more ambitious investment programs in various projects than the previous two, with an original investment of ₦30 billion, increasing to ₦43.3 billion,[citation needed] coupled with several macroeconomic projections.[33] The main aim of this development plan was to decrease the gap between food demand, and the government wanted to develop agriculture and use more modern methods across Nigeria which would create a better food supply.[citation needed] Specific programmes were chosen by the government to invest in for development, including the establishment of agricultural development projects (ADPs), the establishment of nine river basin development authority's (RBDAs), the supply of electricity to rural areas from large irrigation dams, commitment of resources to large scale mechanized state farming enterprises, and public efforts at land reforms through the Land Use Act of 1978.[citation needed]

There were several smaller objectives of this plan that would improve the living conditions of Nigeria; increase in per capita income; more even distribution of income; reduction in the level of unemployment; increase in the supply of higher-level manpower; diversification of the economy; balanced development and indigenization of economic activities.[citation needed] The combination of Nigeria's poor agriculture and poor standard of living meant mass funds were necessary to boost the economy.

Humphrey N. Nwosu brought forward some of the key problems surrounding the third national development plan. The development plan was a very complex process that required co-operation from the whole society, which required many resources which the country did not have.[34] For Nigeria to succeed economically, the Nigerian government were aware that an effective transport system was needed, however they did not have enough resources within the country to accomplish this.[35] For example, ₦5.34 billion was to generate approximately 50,000 kilometres of roads during 1975–1980, but this still went on into the fourth development plan.[36] The issues with Nigeria's lack of resources and transportation availability meant the third development plan did not achieve its aim.

The Fourth National development Plan (1981–1985) brought forth new goals for the country to achieve. These goals included: Increasing the income of Nigeria's citizens. Ensuring that income is more evenly distributed amongst the citizens and various socio- economic groups. Reducing the nation's unemployment levels along with under employment. Increasing the workforce's supply of skilled manpower. Broadening out the nation's economy by making it less dependent on a narrow set of industries. Increase the participation of Nigeria's citizens in the management and ownership of its productive industries and enterprises. Ensure that the country becomes more self-sufficient by dependence upon local resources in order to achieve common, social objectives such as: further technological development and advancements, increasing productivity within the workforce and constructing a new national idea revolving around increased discipline, a strong emphasis on a proper work ethic and a cleaner environment.[37]

One of the plan's key features was the usage of resources generated from oil production to increase the economy's production capacity and to ensure self-sustaining economic growth.

Despite Nigeria's economy being heavily centred around the export of oil, with it composing roughly 80% of government revenue, the plans to finance the fourth national development plan via oil revenue ultimately failed. The plan had expected an annual growth rate of 7.4% between 1981 and 1985, with one of its key focuses being agriculture, domestic food production was expected to rise from 16.7 million to 20.2 million tonnes annually.[38]

Despite this the implementation of the fourth national development plan faced many obstacles, its inauguration was delayed for approximately nine months by the Second Republic government of President Shehu Shagari. Following that, financing for the plan was impaired by falling oil revenues along with the government's general reckless spending. Exports too which were predicted to rise by 12.1% fell by 5.9%, mostly due to recession in nations belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation, which reduced demand for African imports.[39]

The Fifth Development Plan and Rolling Plan within Nigeria was established in 1988 to further tackle inequality and boost the economic, social and political structure for the country. This plan sought to devalue the naira, remove import licenses, reduce tariffs, open the economy to foreign trade, promote non-oil exports through incentives and achieve national self-sufficiency in food production.[40] This plan was said to have the vision of improving labour productivity through incentives, privatisation of many public enterprises, and different government measures to create further employment opportunities following the Fourth National Development Plan.

The primary focus of the plan was to correct the structural defects in the economy and create a more self-reliant economy that would largely be regulated by market forces. This led to the linkage between the agricultural and manufacturing sectors of the economy which were to be emphasised during the plan.[citation needed] The fixed five-year plan was abandoned due to the potential of a simplified and more effective plan. General Ibrahim Babangida abandoned the five-year plan in late 1989 for a 3-year rolling plan in its place.[41]

The Fifth Development plan was scrapped in 1990 which began the era of the three-year Rolling plan which spanned from 1990 up until 1993. It was believed that the reason for the abandonment was unlike the National Development Plan, the Rolling Plan could prove more adaptive and resistant to external economic changes and uncertainties. The benefit of the Rolling Plan meant that the design of it allowed for potential annual changes. The benefits included the ability to accommodate estimates, targets and projections for another year.[42]  The objectives of the rolling plan were to reduce inflation and exchange rate instability, maintain infrastructure, achieve agricultural self-sufficiency, and reduce the burden of structural adjustment on the most vulnerable social groups. The accommodation of the rolling plan allowed for economic fundamentals to move in the right direction as it was recorded that during the years 1996-97 the inflation rate declined from 29% to 8.5%. This was also paired with the GDP showing growth as well as stability in the exchange rate.[43]

Rural development agencies[edit]

In many countries, the national and subnational government delegates rural development to agencies and support centers.

List of agencies[edit]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]