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Harvesting prosperity: The hidden benefits of urbanization for rural communities

By Roberta Fortugno


In the ongoing discourse surrounding urbanization, the prevailing narrative often emphasizes its negative impact on rural communities. However, beneath the surface, a closer examination reveals a more nuanced and optimistic perspective. Urbanization, when coupled with strategic investments and thoughtful policies, has the potential to significantly benefit rural areas.



The shift in structure and the growth of urban areas not only pose challenges for rural communities but also act as a driving force for their progress. Strategic investments directed toward enhancing productivity in agriculture and the overall rural economy result in significant advantages. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO 2017) highlights that improving agricultural productivity is in harmony with urban expansion, as rural sectors supply crucial elements for the development of cities.


One of the notable ways in which urbanization positively impacts rural areas is through the migration of workers to cities. As Asada (2020) highlights in the context of Sri Lanka, the expansion of transportation infrastructure has opened up numerous non-farm employment opportunities. Suttie and Vargas-Lundius (2016) emphasize that migration, whether temporary, seasonal, or permanent, contributes significantly to income diversification, resilience, and productivity-enhancing investments for rural households.


For those who remain in rural communities, non-farm activities, including food processing, marketing, logistics, and food services, emerge as a vital pathway out of poverty. The pace of growth in the non-agricultural sector has been linked to a faster decrease in rural poverty globally (IFAD, 2016). A study in the United Republic of Tanzania revealed that approximately half of the individuals who escaped poverty did so through engagement in the rural non-farm economy or secondary towns (Christiaensen, Weerdt, and Todo, 2013). Notably, this poverty-reducing effect surpassed that of migration to larger cities.


In light of these findings, it becomes imperative to challenge the traditional rural-urban dichotomy. Shifting the development discourse towards a more nuanced understanding of how best to urbanize and develop the rural non-farm economy and secondary towns is crucial. The study suggests that the development narrative could benefit from a more inclusive perspective that acknowledges the interconnectedness of rural and urban areas.


Contrary to the prevailing narrative, urbanization can be a powerful force for positive change in rural communities. By strategically leveraging the benefits of structural transformation, migration, and non-farm activities, policymakers can foster a holistic development approach that transcends traditional dichotomies.

At OCCAM, we emphasize the significance of recognizing and harnessing the potential of urbanization to cultivate prosperity in rural communities worldwide as we navigate through its complexities. Acknowledging the mutually beneficial connection between urban and rural areas provides a route to shared prosperity across the development spectrum.



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