Rural development | Daily News

Rural development

A key concern in national development

At present, nearly half of the population in the world and nearly two-thirds in the developing countries live in rural areas. People residing in rural areas are lagging behind their urban counterparts in respect of certain key indicators of development such as poverty ratio, literacy rate, nutritional status, housing condition and access to basic amenities. As such, several schemes are being implemented in various countries of the world to improve the living conditions of rural people. On the other hand, national development largely depends on the success of schemes for the well-being of people residing in rural areas, particularly in the developing countries.

There is no uniform definition for the rural areas in the literature. On the other hand, different countries have their own definitions for the rural areas. In the Sri Lankan context, according to the Census and Statistics Department, all Municipal Councils (MC) and Urban Councils (UC) are considered as ‘urban’ and the ‘estate’ sector is defined as areas with plantations where there are 20 or more acres and 10 or more resident labourers. All the other areas which do not fall into the above two categories are considered as ‘rural’. Accordingly, 77 percent of the population in Sri Lanka resides in rural areas.

Rural sector

In rural areas, economic activities are centred on the primary sector comprising agriculture, forestry, livestock and fisheries. Thus, traditionally, the predominant human activities in rural areas involve the production of food, fibre and other raw materials. Therefore, the contribution of rural areas is significant in terms of supply of food to the growing population and provision of raw materials for industries. Of late, rural non-farm activities such as small manufacturing, services and business are becoming important in providing livelihood to the rural people.

Some of the salient features of the rural sector in developing nations are as follows:

* Agriculture is the main source of livelihood

* Predominance of smallholdings

* High incidence of poverty

* Large-scale unemployment and underemployment

* Prevalence of unskilled workforce

* Low-income and indebtedness

* Capital deficiency

* Low levels of technology and productivity

* Lack of proper extension facilities

* Lack of infrastructure (Economic and social infrastructure is limited in rural areas compared to urban areas. Economic infrastructure refers to power, transportation and communication facilities. Social infrastructure refers to education and health facilities. The lack of proper infrastructural facilities is mainly responsible for the slow rate of economic and social development in rural areas compared to urban areas.)

* Lack of basic amenities of life (Many rural households suffer from the absence of basic amenities of life, such as housing, drinking water and electricity.)


Rural development is a subset of the broader term ‘development’. Therefore, it is important to understand the meaning and nature of development. In general, development indicates advancement towards a higher state, or it implies a change that is desirable. According to the UNDP, development is “to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community.” Another perspective views the development as freeing people from obstacles that affect their abilities to develop their own lives. Therefore, in other words, development is empowerment. This means that people take control of their lives, articulate their interests and find solutions to their problems. As such, development is cherished by individuals, communities and nations irrespective of their culture, religion and spatial location.

Development needs to be distinguished from the economic growth. Economic growth means an increase in the value of all goods and services produced in an economy. Growth is, therefore, an increase in the production capacity of an economy. However, development is a qualitative concept and denotes an improvement in the general standard of living in a country or economy. Even though economic growth is an essential component of development, it does not denote development if there is no equitable distribution of benefits of growth across different sections of the society. In that context, the basic elements of development should include the following:

* Removal of inequality and poverty

* An increase in material welfare of the people

* An improvement in social well-being of the people

* An equitable distribution of the benefits of growth among different sections

* An enhancement in technology and capacity to produce a wider range of goods and services

* Building institutional structures for promoting the active participation of people in the development process

Thus, development may be defined as an activity or process of both qualitative and quantitative change in the existing systems, aiming at immediate improvement of the living conditions of the people or increasing the potential for betterment of living conditions in the future. Further, development has certain human elements, in the sense that it should fulfill basic human needs, promote human self-respect and guarantee human freedom. Thus, the objective of development could be described as follows:

* To increase the availability and the distribution of basic necessities

* To raise the living standard as well as cultural and humanistic values

* To expand the range of economic and social choice for the human population and removal of disparities

Rural development

In that context, the term ‘rural development’ has several meanings because of its multidimensional nature. As such, rural development can be conceived as a concept or phenomenon or as a strategy. As a concept, rural development means all-round development of rural areas with a view to betterment of the lifestyles of rural people. As a phenomenon, rural development can be viewed as the result of interactions between various physical, environmental, technological, economic, socio-cultural and institutional factors in the rural areas of a nation. As a strategy, rural development is the approach or operational design to bring about the desired positive change in the socio-economic and cultural life of rural people. The multidimensional nature of rural development and the need for rural communities to approach development from wider perspective, have made it important to focus on a broad range of development goals rather than focusing on providing incentive for agricultural and resource-based livelihoods. It, therefore, becomes important to recognise that education, entrepreneurship, physical infrastructure and social infrastructure play important roles.

Rural development emerged as a concern for planning as it became evident that the technocratic approach could not succeed in reducing poverty and inequalities in rural areas in developing countries. The growth-oriented approaches during the 1950s and 1960s have failed to result in percolating the benefits of development to the poorer sections of society. It was realised that a systematic effort is necessary to create better living conditions in the rural areas. In recognition of this fact, the rural development sector policy paper of the World Bank (1975) observed: “rural development is a strategy designed to improve the economic and social life of a specific group of people - the rural poor. It involves extending the benefits of development to the poorest among those who seek a livelihood in rural areas. The group includes small-scale farmers, tenants and the landless.” In another publication, the World Bank defined rural development as “improving the living standards of the masses of low-income population residing in rural areas making the process of rural development self-sustaining.”

The World Bank definition of rural development is based on an operational approach having implications for allocating loan resources over a wide spectrum of countries. In a seminar on approaches to rural development in Asia, discussions were focused on the definition of rural development as “a process which leads to a continuous rise in the capacity of rural people to control their environment accompanied by a wider distribution of benefits resulting from such control.” Thus, it is clear that rural development should focus on increasing the capacity of rural people to control their physical and social environment. Further, the benefits of development should be widely distributed among different sections of the rural population.

According to another definition, rural development includes the strategies, policies and programmes for the development of rural areas and the promotion of activities such as agriculture, forestry, fishery, rural crafts and industries and the building of social and economic infrastructure carried out in rural areas with the ultimate aim of achieving a fuller utilisation of available physical and human resources. Thus higher incomes and better living conditions for the rural population and effective participation of the rural poor in the development process could be achieved as a whole.

Thus, rural development is a process leading to sustainable improvement in the quality of life of rural people, especially the poor. In addition to economic growth, rural development involves changes in attitudes, customs and beliefs. Therefore, rural development should represent the entire scope of change in the social system so that the society moves away from the unsatisfactory state of life towards a materially and spiritually better condition of life.

Michael Todaro (pioneer in the field of development economics) also views that rural development encompasses the following aspects:

* Improvement in the levels of living, including employment, education, health, nutrition, housing and a variety of social services;

* Decreasing inequality in the distribution of rural incomes and enhancing rural-urban balances in income and economic opportunities; and

* Increasing the capacity of the rural sector to sustain and accelerate the pace of these improvements.

Therefore, it becomes clear from the above discussions that the need for rural development is apparent in developing economies. The critical areas of development and the linkages between different aspects need to be carefully identified and appropriate strategies need to be developed. The following factors have to be considered with much concern in designing such strategies. The scope of rural development should include developing social consciousness among rural people to enable them to understand their present situation and strive for improving their living conditions. There is also the need for collective decision-making and collective action through dedicated village leadership to effectively implement different rural development schemes. The use of scientific knowledge should be promoted in all walks of life so that there is an attitudinal change among the rural people to adopt modern technologies and increase their incomes. Rural development should simultaneously focus on the development of agriculture and allied activities, cottage and village industries and the rural services sector. Priority should be given to the development of economic and social infrastructure and provision of basic amenities of life in rural areas. It is important to recognise the need for an integrated approach and the interdependence between the rural and urban sectors to bring about rural development on sound lines. 

Add new comment