Why is Rural Development Important?

An ever-increasing portion of the world’s population is moving to urban areas.

The United Nations estimates that nearly all global population growth over the next 14 years will be absorbed by cities, adding an estimated 1.1 billion people to urban populations. Cities will require increased amounts of food and natural resources from rural regions to sustain their burgeoning number of residents.

Meantime, most rural communities face substantial pressures and risks. Aside from natural forces that can disrupt rural and agricultural livelihoods, climate change, new technologies, commodity prices, environmental regulations or economic conditions can send entire villages into periods of hopeless poverty and struggle if they cannot adapt.

My experience has taught me that sustainably developing rural communities around the world is about so much more than just agriculture. First and foremost, its about people and the communities in which they belong.  Misunderstand people, their needs and their institutions and you are not likely to get very far in assisting them to face change or improve their standard of living. There may be many choices for livelihoods in a rural region and agriculture is one of them, but all options involve important choices about the inhabitants’ relationship with their environment, their community and their way of life.

I found the most fascinating of these rural development changes in the remote islands of the Pacific. Isolated from cheap and reliable transportation, communication and trade, these island communities have been resiliently self-sufficient for many generations, living off of their natural resources. Yet even in communities where residents may be perfectly content with the simple existence of subsistence farming, the forces of change, growth and development are always at play. The natural resources of many Pacific islands are under threat. Every community aspires to a better way of life, but these islands face the daunting challenge of competitively offering a product or service to a far off world. The challenges they face are immense, but not impossible to overcome.

The Hamakua Institute is working with the University of Hawaii-Hilo’s College of Agriculture Forestry and Natural Resource Management to find solutions for forgotten island communities struggling to make a better way of life. The Pacific Islands Rural Development Initiative will be working with institutional partners throughout the Pacific to train rural development workers on how to overcome the challenges to establishing sustainable livelihoods in these island communities.

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