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World Social Report 2021: Reconsidering Rural Development

World Social Report 2021: Reconsidering Rural Development launched 26 May calls for an urgent reconsideration of rural development is needed for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The current strategies and patterns of rural development are failing to meet either the socioeconomic or the environmental Goals of this Agenda.

  • 4 out of every 5 people who face extreme poverty around the world live in rural areas.

Many rural areas are witnessing severe depletion and degradation of natural resources, contributing to climate change and the recurrence of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic, together with already persistent high levels of poverty and inequalities, are threatening to stall progress for the world’s rural populations.

The World Social Report 2021, a flagship publication of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) on major social development issues 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.  

These include leveraging the rise of :

  1. new digital technologies,
  2. boosting the non-farm economy and
  3. increasing investments in public services and rural infrastructure while protecting the health of the planet..

The World Social Report 2021 points to the ways in which rural development can be reset to achieve sustainable development. It calls for moving rural development to the centre of attention, instead of relegating it as an appendage of urban development;

  • for ending the rural-urban divide through the adoption of the in situ urbanization model;
  • for ending within-rural inequality; and
  • for achieving rural development while preserving the environment.

World Social Report 2021 shows that new digital and frontier technologies are creating opportunities for achieving these goals. What is needed is to seize these opportunities and to convert into reality the long-standing goal of eradicating the rural-urban disparity.

As populations and economies grow, constraints on available land may rise.

  • Policy choices will influence whether this increased competition for resources leads to innovation and inclusive development or to degradation, scarcity and inequalities of access and control over these resources.
  • A fair distribution of, and secure access to, land and its natural resources is required, regardless of whether tenure is based on individual or collective rights.
  • Moreover, it is vital to ensure rural women’s equal access to land and natural resources and address discriminatory laws and practices that impede their rights in this regard

On addressing environmental issues, policies need to be directed at

  1. protecting water and land resources from depletion, degradation and pollution;
  2. promoting mixed, circular, and organic farming; etc

Accelerating agricultural labour productivity growth requires: addressing the chronic underinvestment in the agricultural sector by context-specific policies:

  • reduce price volatility,
  • promote the use of technology and extension services,
  • build better infrastructure,
  • secure land rights,
  • improve gender equality, and
  • manage environmental degradation

Globally, about half of all countries are engaged in land tenure reform, with over 1 billion farmers already having benefited (IFAD, 2016)

  • For indigenous peoples, land is often not seen as a commodity. It is instead a sacred part of their cultural identity. Most indigenous peoples have land tenure systems based on collective rights, regulated by customary laws and tradition.
  • It is vital to ensure rural women’s equal access to land and natural resources and address discriminatory laws and practices that impede their rights in this regard.

Young people in rural areas have limited access to land. They face three main challenges (IFAD, 2019).

  1. First, due to rapid population growth, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, rural areas are becoming more densely populated. As a result, land is scarcer and plots are becoming smaller and more fragmente
  2. Second, people live longer, more productive lives. Parents are thus less likely to transfer their land to their children when they enter the labour force.
  3. Third, the rise of medium-scale commercial farms is further increasing competition for land.

As a result of all three factors, young people are significantly less likely to own land than adults. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 1 in 3 adults is the sole owner of a plot of land, while this is true for fewer than 1 in 10 young people

Land is essential for the survival and prosperity of humanity, accounting for roughly 29 per cent of the Earth’s surface (figure IV.8).

  • Half of the Earth’s habitable land is used for agriculture, with 37 per cent covered by forests. How land is used plays a critical role in determining the supply of food, fibre, energy and materials.
  • Land-use and land-cover change increases the release of carbon dioxide by disturbing soils and vegetation and is the main driver of deforestation. This means that rural land management practices have direct impact on climate change (SDG 13).
  • Food-related emissions alone may result in the world exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit by 2050, and food emissions by themselves could bring the world close to the 2 degrees Celsius limit by 2100  
  • Without changes to food systems and consumption patterns in urban areas, food-related emissions could double by 2050.

The climate goals are thus unlikely to be reached without changes to agricultural practices and food systems, including reduction of food waste and changes in food consumption patterns in urban areas.

About 17 per cent of total global food production is wasted (11 % in households, 5 % in food service and 2 % in retail).

  • This means that about 8-10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed 
  • Livestock-based food similarly tends to have a higher footprint than plant-based food.

For example, producing one kilogram of beef leads to 60 kilograms of greenhouse gases, while producing one kilogram of peas causes just 1 kilogram of greenhouse gas emissions

  • Land-use changes brought about by rural development around the world are threatening more species with extinction than ever before.
  • An average of about 25 per cent of species in assessed animal and plant groups are threatened, suggesting that about 1 million species already face extinction in the next decades
  • Many pollinating species have also declined in large numbers and are threatened with further loss, putting at risk the production of 75 per cent of the current food crop

Global water consumption is now about 4,500 billion m3 , with 70 per cent used by agriculture.

  • Water demand is projected to increase annually by 2 per cent by 2030 ( Addams, et al., 2009).
  • OECD also estimated in 2012 that water demand could increase by 55 per cent globally between 2000 and 2050.
  • Some 1.5 per cent of the global agricultural land is currently cultivated in an organic manner.
  • The highest organic share of the total agricultural land, by region, is in Oceania (8.6 per cent) and the European Union (7.7 per cent)
  • While the largest share of the global demand for organic agricultural produce is in developed countries, almost 90 per cent of organic farmers live in developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • The countries with the largest number of organic farmers are India (0.6 million), Ethiopia (0.2 million), and Mexico (0.2 million).

Investing in land restoration and reforestation

  • Land restoration can raise groundwater levels, increase crop yields, and induce positive changes in the fauna of the respective region
  • It is estimated that roughly 40 per cent of the currently degraded land has the potential for restoration at low cost (UNEP and International Resource Panel, 2014).
  • In Europe, it has been observed that reduced tillage plots can increase topsoil organic matter and microbial bio[1]mass by 25 and 32 per cent, respectively, compared to the conventional approach
  • Soil organic matter is one of the indicators used by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification to monitor achievement of SDG 15.3 (land degradation).
  • Farmer-managed natural regeneration, tree planting and protection, have been used successfully on agricultural lands in the drylands of the Sahelian region

For example, by 2030:

  • an estimated 20 per cent of the global rural population is not likely to have access to basic drinking water (SDG 6.1.1) and
  • 41 per cent could be without access to basic sanitation services (SDG 6.2.1).
  • The population affected by water stress, a significant share of which resides in rural areas, could also increase from 2.5 billion to 3.7 billion people by 2030, despite the projected increase in global water-use efficiency (SDG 6.4.1).
  • With water demand estimated to increase to about 6,000 billion m3 by 2030, the world is likely to experience a significant water deficit
  • Some 38 per cent of biodiversity could similarly be lost by 2030 because of the impact of agricultural and industrial activities and climate change (SDG 15.5).
  • It is also predicted that about 95 per cent of the Earth’s land areas could become degraded by 2050, and
  • the world could run out of topsoil in 60 years, unless there is a major change in the current rural development strategy (SDG 15.3).
  • Furthermore, food-related CO2 emissions alone—which are projected to double by 2050 without changes to current foods systems and consumption and production patterns—could result in the global average temperature rising 1.5 and 2.0 degrees Celsius by 2050 and 2100, respectively (SDG 13).

Among the Conclusions/recommendations

A sustainable rural transformation is needed to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

  • With  current patterns of rural development persisting, the world is likely to experience a  water deficit of about 30 percent by 2030,
  • and nearly 95 per cent of the Earth’s land  areas could become degraded by 2050.
  • Critical to sustainable rural transformation and the achievement of the SDGs by 2030  will be the significant strengthening of the performance of the water sector and achieving land neutrality.
  • This calls for new investment in water- and land-use  technologies, greater application of circular and conservation practices, and  renewed efforts to strengthen the role of local institutions and incentives in
  • managing natural and environmental resources.
  • Access to land and promotion and support of smallholder agriculture
  • Digitization of land registration An important step towards progressive land ownership and tenure systems is comprehensive and accurate land registration
  • Special attention to rural women In most developing countries, rural women play a crucial role in production and output processing activities
  • Secure and equal access to land is necessary, but it is insufficient by itself to foster the effective use of land by rural women. Rural women also need improved access to other resources, such as credit, technology, extension services and markets.
  • To ensure a prosperous future for indigenous peoples, both culturally and economically, secure access to their ancestral lands must be guaranteed
  • Policies for protecting water, Policies for protecting land, Land restoration
  • Land reform policies should be complemented by efforts to improve these aspects as well.

The World Social Report (previously Report on the World Social Situation) is prepared by the Division for Inclusive Social Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).

Over the years, the Report has served as a background document for discussion and policy analysis of socio-economic matters at the intergovernmental level, and has aimed at contributing to the identification of emerging social trends of international concern and to the analysis of relationships among major development issues which have both international and national dimensions. World Social Report 2021: Reconsidering Rural Development

rural social report 2021