NEW DELHI: Unprecedented farmers’ protests seen recently in India can expand into a political problem, warned the United Nations in its latest World Social Report titled “Reconsidering Rural Development”.
“Several recent events have highlighted the importance of rethinking current rural development strategies. Unprecedented farmers’ protests, such as the one seen recently in India, and resentment of rural people towards national authorities, as observed in many other countries show that neglect of the rural population and agricultural policy issues can expand the rural-urban divide into a political problem,” the report said.
The report calls for a reconsideration of rural development in the age of pandemic, aimed at ending the rural-urban divide and better protecting the health of the planet. It calls for renewed attention to “in situ urbanization” as a model of rural development that can both raise the living standards of rural people and mitigate urban ills. It also urges greater investment in sustainable agriculture and infrastructure and expanding rural access to the Internet, since rural household access is generally half that of urban areas.
Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations writing the foreword for the report, said the covid-19 pandemic has caused immense suffering around the world; and has made the task of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 even more difficult.
“Through response and recovery efforts, however, 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,” Guterres said.
The report said the experience of the Green Revolution in the 1960s in India and several other developing countries showed how agricultural productivity growth can have an autonomous and catalytic role in spurring national development. “Rural development, therefore, needs to be considered central to a sustainable development process, instead of as an appendage of urban industrial development,” it added.
The structure of the rural economy in India has changed substantially in the last few decades, as annual growth in rural non-farm employment has outstripped that of farm-based employment. The rural non-farm sector now accounts for 40% of all rural employment, increasing non-farm income opportunities and economic mobility. Yet, agriculture remains the main sector of employment, and India’s rural workforce remains mostly involved in agriculture.
The report said though rural India is home to 65% of the country’s total population, it has seen a steady decline in the percentage of people living in extreme poverty over the last two decades, the Gini coefficient of rural income inequality has increased over the same period.
“Income inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient increased from 30.7 in 1983 to 42.7 in 2009 in the village. Caste-based income inequality plays a limited role in this increase. Instead, over two-thirds of overall income inequality in 2009 can be attributed to the distribution of non-agricultural incomes. In other words, the increase in non-farm incomes reduced poverty and increased mobility, slowly breaking down long-standing barriers to mobility among the poorest segments of rural society in India, but it also brought greater income inequality to the village,” it added.
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