Key Changes in International Agriculture and Rural Development Issues: Three Priority Areas in the Context of the 2030 Development Agenda

By Karim Hussein
ACCRA, Sep 18 2019 – Transformations in international agricultural and rural development issues

Some major changes in international agricultural and rural development over the last 30-40 years need to be taken into account in efforts to promote sustainable development and an inclusive rural transformation (IFAD 2016) as we approach the third decade of the millennium. This opinion piece, drawing on a longer article published in Agriculture for Development Journal (Summer 2019 Issue), seeks to stimulate reflection and debate on how work to support agricultural and rural development can evolve to address key challenges and opportunities related to migration, sustainable urbanization and youth in a changing global policy context.

Karim Hussein

Current issues and challenges

While key themes have remained on the agenda such as enhancing productivity, environmental sustainability, inclusion and participation, availability and access to food and addressing trade issues, since the 1980s the global development landscape has evolved. The transformations occurring in the global economy and society are moving at a rapid pace, particularly in the context of the application of new technologies and innovations, information and communications technologies (ICTs) and digital approaches in agriculture or ‘digitalisation’ (Dahlberg Advisers and CTA 2019), all in an increasingly complex and globalised development context. A key question has become how do agricultural and rural development adapt in a world of rapid globalisation and urbanization to reduce hunger, food insecurity and contribute to eliminating poverty FAO 2019 and Jacquet et al, 2011)?

The roles of partnerships among all stakeholders to address food systems challenges and build resilience to shocks among smallholders are key. Smallholders constitute the majority of the world’s rural producers, and among these special attention is needed to empower women and youth and to address the challenges faced by vulnerable groups, including migrants, in the context of rapid transformations in the global economy and food systems.

Major challenges to an inclusive and sustainable rural transformation in the 21st Century are reviewed in more detail in the paper published in Agriculture for Development cited above. Clearly, the pace of innovation has to increase to address these challenges. Here, I will highlight just three areas: migration; rapid urbanization; and youth (

Migration is a dramatic global and regional phenomenon shaping the policies and decisions of governments and populations around the world. The roles of mobility in agriculture and rural development require more attention than they have received to date. They are increasingly significant given rapid growth in youth populations in developing countries, along with dynamic rural-urban connectivity, and the impacts of climate change and spread of conflict (Suttie 2018, ‘Migration and rural advisory services’, GFRAS Issues Paper 2). Tailored, context-specific approaches to promoting agriculture and access to advisory services for young people and women is critical to the 2030 Agenda, especially SDGs 1, 2, 5, 8 and 11. There is a need to work on how to adapt technical agricultural analysis, advice and rural advisory services to respond to the needs of mobile populations in both rural and urban areas.

Rapid urbanisation. A rapid rate of urbanization has occurred and will likely accelerate in the coming years such that in 2050 some 66% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas (see FAO 2019 cited above). In 2013, over 58 % of the total population in developing countries was considered to live in rural areas with most involved in agriculture, mainly smallholder farming (Hussein and Suttie, 2016). Given the major transitions related to the global trend of urbanization, the roles that rural economies and societies will have to play in creating sustainable and inclusive food systems require more attention in the years ahead. Rural-based populations are increasingly connected to urban areas and markets, but many are primarily engaged in informal sector economic activities and low productivity agriculture and lacking access to basic services. The incentives for people in rural areas and for those engaged in agriculture to migrate to towns, cities and abroad in search of better jobs and income earning opportunities are very powerful, particularly for young people.

Youth. In many developing countries, the population of young people is growing and youth have become the centre of attention for development practitioners and decision makers. Addressing the challenges related to a bulging population of young people seeking better work and incomes in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, will be vital in the years ahead. This is critical to work to strengthen rural-urban linkages and food systems to facilitate youth migration for real job opportunities but also to ensure they have attractive economic opportunities in agriculture and rural areas.

Suttie argued that higher incomes, urban growth, increasing demand for food, the spread of technologies and greater rural-urban connectivity have created new opportunities for skilled remunerative work in agri-food systems (Suttie 2018). In this context, skills development tailored to opportunities for young people (particularly smallholder family farmers, rural workers and rural women) in agriculture – whether in urban or rural contexts – is strategically important for making progress towards achieving the SDGs.

Concluding remarks

Hunger, poverty, environmental crises and sustainability remain as important if not more important than they were 40 years ago. While the issues have perhaps not changed so much over this period, the context has in this rapidly changing, fluid and globalised world where technology and innovation are leaping ahead. In order to achieve the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and an inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural transformation, special attention needs to be paid by development actors to addressing issues related to migration, rapid urbanization and youth.

This opinion piece is drawn from a longer article published in Agriculture for Development journal, No. 37, Summer 2019 (see:

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