FAO Report: rural areas are key to unblock the potential of sustainable food systems.

FAO Report: rural areas are key to unblock the potential of sustainable food systems.

May 17, 2018

FAO Report: rural areas are key to unblock the potential of sustainable food systems.

In the latest report on the state of food production and agriculture published by the FAO, the role of rural areas in the world economy emerges clearly. Even though urbanization is on the rise, most people still live in the country. City and country need to be better connected by infrastructure and by modern means of production.

There is enough food for everyone on this planet, but despite this, 815 million people go hungry. Ending malnutrition and poverty across the world are the objectives of the first and second of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) promoted by the United Nations. The hope is that these and the other SDGs will be achieved by 2030: according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this will depend crucially on our ability to develop rural areas in low income countries in the next few years. These are the areas where most poor people live, and they are expected to increase in number; furthermore, these areas are a key resource for the economic development of many nations. As the FAO often repeats, "the fact that our strategic framework is so close to the SDGs, puts our Organization in a strong position to provide countries with immediate help when implementing and monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals".


More country than city

The 70th edition of the yearly FAO report, entitled The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA 2017), sketches out possible strategies for exploiting this potential through agro-industrial development, showing that working with the rural economy is as effective as working with urban industries for the eradication of hunger and poverty. 

Andrea Cattaneo, Senior Economist and editor of the report, together with Rob Vos, Director of the Agricultural Development Economics division, coordinated the multi-disciplinary research team that produced the SOFA 2017 report. The analysis shows that the distribution of the population between city and countryside varies significantly across the different continents. In low income countries, except for Latin America and the Caribbean, the share of population gravitating around small towns and villages is higher than that gravitating around large cities: actually, if we look at Central Asia, we can easily see that this is the area of the world with the lowest percentage of urbanized areas. Under 20 percent of the population of Central Asia lives in a large city, compared to more than 60 percent living in rural areas.

Linking metropolitan areas and cultivated lands

The solution is clear: we need to link large cities and countryside. How? By setting clear priorities and objectives, and implementing targeted measures: investing in roads, energy, irrigation systems and other production infrastructure is crucial, but so is the development of services like access to credit for small businesses. "In addition to improving infrastructures, governments need to play a key role in the reduction of costs, as they provide incentives to investments and create the conditions for inclusive development", the authors claim. Political will is needed to reduce the barriers to credit and market access for small farmers, particularly at a time like the present, when demand for food is changing profoundly but the low scale supply chain remains the key to food distribution in many areas. At the farm level, we need to facilitate mechanization, revitalize farm extension systems and strengthen land ownership rights. 

"There are over 500 million small farmers in the world, who risk being left behind in the structural transformation processes that are taking place on a large scale. The key to the success of the proposed approach to farming land, is a balanced mix of infrastructural development and actions in the policies for the entire rural-urban spectrum", conclude Cattaneo and his colleagues. This mix would enable small scale farmers to be more productive and efficient, thus contributing to the challenges facing mankind in the next few decades.

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