A new paradigm for rural development

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A new paradigm for rural development

By Manuel Otero, Director General, IICA; Julio Berdegué, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative, FAO; Joaquín Lozano, Regional Director for LAC, IFAD; Miguel Barreto, Regional Director, WFP. Originally published on Télam.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the broadest consensus ever reached by humanity regarding the kind of development we aspire to. They establish a minimum for our civilization regarding the opportunities and levels of well-being to which every human being is entitled, and define humanity’s obligations with respect to our planet and its future generations.

This involves nothing less than eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, combating inequality and injustice, and remedying climate change in all countries and for all people.

In defining the SDGs in September 2015, the leaders of 193 countries also approved an action plan for achieving them: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with targets and indicators for measuring its progress.

In their large majority, in order to attain those targets and indicators it is essential to move forward in a profound transformation of the rural communities and of the ways in which we relate to the countryside. Nearly eight in ten of the indicators for the 2030 Agenda are intimately linked to what happens with rural communities, and two in ten may only be achieved in and with the countryside.

But in the absence of profound rural transformations, the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda will be unachievable, like those of: eradicating extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition; achieving gender equality; advancing productivity and creating decent jobs; or reducing ethnic inequalities, water pollution, deforestation and the destruction of biodiversity.

The SDGs represent a profound change with respect to the paradigm that guided us following the post-World War II period, according to which development consisted in leaving all that was rural behind and in its place embracing urbanization and industrialization. By contrast, the SDGs contain targets that will only be reached by redefining the role of the rural communities in today’s world, including their links with the urban environment, and promoting development and market access for smallholders.

If in the last century development consisted in overcoming rurality, in the twenty-first century development will only be synonymous with human progress if it results in more complete rural communities, with a greater exercise of basic rights and a greater capacity to contribute to our shared destiny on this planet.

The notion that the countryside is a static world that is averse to change is contradicted in myriad ways by reality: the rural communities of Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced profound transformations, particularly beginning in the 1980s. Nonetheless, the effects of those transformations have often not been in the direction of the kind of development defined by the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda.

There is substantial evidence showing that in most of our countries rural transformation has been neither socially inclusive nor environmentally sustainable. The inequalities are not just economic and social, but also sectoral, territorial, ethnic and gender-based. Poverty and low productivity are concentrated in particular territories and among smallholders, indigenous people and women. At present the rural communities are doing worse than urban communities on the overwhelming majority of the SDG indicators, which is in contradiction with the vision of “leaving no one behind” that inspires these indicators.

In our times the new paradigm for rural development must drive the structural transformations needed to move us closer to the SDG targets, achievement of which inevitably depends on strengthening the capacities, opportunities and levels of well-being of the rural communities.

In order to promote this kind of development, the four main multilateral bodies focused on the countryside – FAO, IFAD, IICA and WFP – invite the countries of the region to the event entitled “Rural Communities and the 2030 Agenda”, in Santiago, Chile on April 17, as part of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development.

Its objective is as simple as it is important: to draw attention to the fact that in the absence of a new kind of rural development, there is no possibility of sustainable development, not only for the rural dwellers but indeed for anyone on this planet.