Rural development
ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations
Promoting jobs, protecting people

Rural development

The world-wide goals of sustainable growth, jobs, poverty reduction and equitable development cannot be achieved unless directly tackled at the rural level. Rural areas hold considerable potential for high return activities and productive livelihoods. However they are often held back by scant investment and decent work deficits, particularly, high under- and unemployment among youth and women, widespread child labour, informality and poor working conditions, limited social and labour law coverage, and weak organization among employers and workers.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), environmental concerns, and the food security and economic crises now provide an additional sense of urgency to explicitly target rural revitalization, and to muster the needed political and economic will and resources.

The ILO can make important contributions to rural development by supporting governments, employers and workers promote productive employment and decent work. It can draw on a vast array of rural-relevant approaches and tools in core technical areas, long-time experience, and a network of external partnerships.
A look, in photos, at what the ILO is doing to connect women in rural areas with decent work.
The ILO is working to promote skills in the rural sector and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, over 2,900 women entrepreneurs were trained to start their own business. Not only did the women say the training boosted their confidence, a follow-up survey showed that one new business has been created for every two entrepreneurs trained. Two jobs were created for every two entrepreneurs trained and two jobs were added to each new business which was started after training, including the job of business owner.
Paid employment opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa are scarce and the vulnerable employment rate, at 77.4 per cent in 2013, remained the highest of all regions. Africa’s population is growing faster than anywhere else. The informal economy in sub-Saharan Africa is around 54 per cent. Cooperatives are fundamental to economic empowerment in rural areas and small villages. With ILO training and financial support, micro-insurance has been provided for 10,000 cooperative members, mainly women. In Ethiopia, around 6,300 women and seven women’s cooperatives have benefited from credit and business management training. Women and girls are regularly exposed to unacceptable forms of agricultural work in rural areas, but are often more vulnerable than their male colleagues in accessing support and voicing their concerns.  Measures to protect all workers from unacceptable hazards and forms of work directly benefit women and girls. In El Salvador, the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) is working to combat child labour in rural communities by increasing women’s capacity for employment or entrepreneurship. Diminishing household dependence on child labour is at the core of these efforts. To date more than 2,400 women have been trained through project activities. The ILO is active in environmental rehabilitation in Haiti. An ILO/UNDP/WFP joint project for natural disaster prevention and environmental rehabilitation in the Artibone Region implemented water and soil conservation projects that provide income and enhance agricultural produce. The programme provided combined food and cash payments and generated jobs of a 25-day duration to 3,600 households. Half of these are headed by women. In the area of agricultural value chain development, the ILO is striving to ensure gender equality and prevent the repetition of traditional patterns of gender discrimination, where poor and uneducated women remain in lower paid, less skilled and more insecure work. In northern Peru, Café Femenino is a brand of organic coffee created, grown, processed and owned by women. The product is sold in the US and Canada as fair trade. Inspired by these efforts, women in other Latin American countries have begun their own Café Femenino programmes. Organic and fair trade premiums have led to better nutrition in coffee-growing areas, as well as improved sanitation, new wet-processing mills and many miles of new roads. Training for Rural Economic Empowerment, or TREE, is an ILO community-based programme in Asia and Africa. In rural Pakistan, female trainers educated rural women at home because social norms restrict them from getting trained outside their homes. As a result, many of the trainees experienced increased mobility, self-esteem and socioeconomic empowerment. Decent work must also include social protection. But for women living in rural areas, it can be difficult, if not impossible to access benefits like healthcare or cash transfers. In Cambodia, the ILO is working with the government to facilitate access to social protection through a single window service. The first offices of the Social Service Delivery Mechanism (SSDM) were opened in June 2014. By the end of 2016, all communes of the Siem Reap province should have an office, thus allowing rural women access to healthcare, cash transfers and other social protection benefits.

Key resources

  1. International Labour Conference 2008

    Promotion of Rural Employment for Poverty Reduction

Policies & Tools

  1. Rural Policy Briefs

    Action-oriented, synthetic leaflets providing guidance to practitioners on how to drive job creation, poverty alleviation, crisis resilience and equitable development through rural growth.

  2. Rural-related Tools

    Descriptive leaflets on over 50 ready-to-use tools to stimulate employment and decent work in rural areas.


  1. Instructional material

    Toolkit on Poverty Reduction through Tourism in Rural Areas

    The toolkit outlines the background to poverty reduction approaches and how the ILO is involved within the context of decent work and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

ILO strategy

  1. ILO Governing body, March 2011

    Unleashing rural development through productive employment and decent work: Building on 40 years of ILO work in rural areas

Contact us


Historical background

  1. Report

    Building on the ILO Rural Work Legacy 1970-2010

    Stocktaking of the approaches, tools, work methods, achievements and lessons learned.

  2. Timeline

    Milestones in ILO rural development work (1920-2011)

Family of farmers in the Nha Trang province, Vietnam
Woman employed in a small poultry breeding station, Egypt
Adolescents (taken out of domestic work) in rural school, Tanzania
Employees of a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. Argentina.
The auction room of the Bloemenveiling at Aalsmeer, the largest flower marketplace and exchange in the world, Netherlands
Woman working in a laboratory in an orchid farm, Thailand
Director of a boi-tech enterprise, which produces mushrooms, China
A labourer clearing the logs, Brazil
Reintegration of former child soldiers into civilian life, fixing a tractor motorization, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Woman cutting hay for cattle, Indonesia
Employees of a fish farm, Ecuador
Woman painting clay pots, Sri Lanka
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