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Rural economies

Cultivating the green shoots of rural areas

The ILO looks to harnessing the potential of the world’s rural areas as city dwellers in the developing world struggle to find work.

Feature | 18 October 2012
GENEVA (ILO News) – It is impossible to talk about sustainable development without taking into account this simple fact: half of the world’s population and 75 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas.

The challenge is even more pressing when we look at what’s happening in urban spaces.
“The cities are often saturated in terms of housing and jobs. Living conditions and the types of jobs available are sometimes also quite poor,” says Loretta de Luca, ILO’s Co-ordinator for Rural Employment and Decent Work.

Let's stop talking of rural areas only in terms of poverty (...). They have potential and need to be fully tapped."
This trend is particularly visible in Africa, where, according to demographers, growth in cities has slowed because of the lack of job opportunities. As a result, many people who migrated to cities from rural areas are going back to the countryside. Many Asian and Latin American countries also face an overcrowding of urban areas.

“Let’s stop talking of rural areas only in terms of poverty. Let’s recognize that with the right policies, we can create decent jobs in rural areas. That’s where many of the people who need jobs live, and rural areas can be a springboard for growth. They have potential and they need to be fully tapped in terms of physical and human resources,” says de Luca.

Rediscovering rural areas

“Migrating to cities cannot be the only option for the millions of rural workers who are desperate for a better life,” adds de Luca. “But there will be more poverty and even hunger and political unrest if people return to rural areas without any support to increase their productivity and incomes."

The ILO has been working on an Action Plan for rural development since  2008 and further discussions will take place when the Governing Body – the ILO’s executive council – meets in November. 
Rural areas
  • 75 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas.
  • Half the world’s population live and work in rural areas.
  • Only 10% of the rural workforce is unionized
  • Rural women produce 60 – 80 per cent of food in developing countries.
  • 1/3 of food production is lost or wasted, partly for lack of processing facilities in rural areas
  • 60% of total child labour is in agriculture
  • 39% of rural girls and 45% of rural boys attend secondary school.

The ILO’s strategy covers employment, social protection, labour standards and social dialogue. ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, has also identified the rural economy as one of seven key priorities for the organization.

The ILO’s work on rural areas includes the quality and productivity of rural jobs, the promotion of micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as research and other technical assistance to co-operatives and rural community-based organizations.

A number of existing conventions on labour standards are also being promoted, along with the extension of social protection for the rural poor. And special attention will be given to youth and women, whose potential in rural communities is now largely under-estimated, under-developed and under-used.

“Rural areas should not be seen as places of last resort,” says de Luca. “They are important and are extensive economic areas that are well worth investing in. They can be engines for job rich growth that can benefit local communities and the broader economy. The ILO is in an excellent position to promote this and aims to do so in an integrated way.”