The newly released 2021 World Social Report by the United Nation has indicated that new approaches made possible through improved access and internet connectivity can raise the standard of living for approximately 3.4 billion people living in rural areas, without them having to migrate to cities.
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The report titled “Reconsidering Rural Development” offers new strategies to ensure that the 3.4 billion people who live in rural areas are not left behind as global efforts focus on boosting socio-economic growth and tackling climate change in the middle of the COVID-19 recovery.
The report calls for an end to the rural-urban divide and offers new approaches to advance rural development that would allow rural populations to reach the urban standard of living without having to migrate to urban areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also proven that new technologies can enable rural populations to flourish, ending the rural-urban divide.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres said the new technologies opened up new opportunities for rural development.
“Opportunities exist to build a greener, more inclusive and resilient future. The experience of the pandemic has shown, for example, that where high-quality Internet connectivity is coupled with flexible working arrangements, many jobs that were traditionally considered to be urban can be performed in rural areas too," he noted.
It is stated in the report that the rise of new digital technologies provides an opportunity to bridge the rural-urban divide, by providing rural populations with access to digital finance, precision tools for better crop yields as well as jobs that can be done remotely.
Rural women, older persons, as well as indigenous people, continue to experience discrimination when it comes to land rights and employment.
Rural areas contain most of the planet’s natural capital, which is currently being depleted and degraded. Deforestation and unsustainable land practices have greatly contributed to climate change and the spread of zoonotic diseases.
The report offers new strategies to ensure that the rural population — nearly half of the world’s people — is not left behind as the world escalates efforts to boost the economy, reduce inequalities and tackle the climate crisis.
The report, however, calls for improving the lives of people where they are, to improve rural standards of living.
Called “In Situ Urbanization,” the approach seeks to ensure that the rural population is able to enjoy the same standard of living as the urban population, without the negative side effects of unsustainable urbanization.
To this end, in order to drive social progress in rural areas, addressing inequalities is expected to go hand in hand with efforts to reduce poverty levels.
This includes new land reform policies, expanded social protection as well as the abrogation of discriminatory laws that effectively tackle the inequalities that rural women, indigenous people, and other vulnerable populations experience.
The report further noted that the change of natural habitats to agricultural land has led to 60 per cent to 70 per cent of total biodiversity loss and the loss of forests and wilderness is credited with the rise of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that approximately 31 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to agriculture and land-use changes. Policies would need to be put in place to build resilience and reduce the vulnerability of rural livelihoods to climate change.
The report however recommends taking steps to develop crop varieties that are less land-intensive, practicing mixed farming, and switching to the circular economy.
Additionally, a water deficit of about 30 per cent is expected by 2030 and nearly 95 per cent of the earth’s land areas could become degraded by 2050 if current patterns of rural development continue.
Measures that promote the sustainable use of resources, as well as food security, must be considered.
The report further acknowledges that more action is needed to boost agricultural productivity by improving infrastructure, using appropriate technology, providing incentives, and increasing investments.
It is also important to focus on agricultural models that are country-specific and are geared towards supporting smallholders.
Diversification is also key to a rural transformation. Expanding non-farm activities — a potential source of income for young people — should be part of the new strategies.
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