Inclusive Rural–Urban Linkages

Type Working Paper
Title Inclusive Rural–Urban Linkages
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
The world has urbanized, but it has not done so exclusively or even mainly in large cities. Almost 2
billion people, 27% of the world’s total population or half of the world’s urban population, reside in
towns and small and medium cities of up to half a million inhabitants. An additional 3.4 billion people
are classified as living in rural areas, or 46% of our planet’s inhabitants. The majority of the world’s
poor, perhaps as many as 70%, live in these towns and small and medium cities and the rural areas
more proximate to them, and poverty rates are also higher in small and medium cities than in large
urban agglomerations. This desk review is about the relationships involving 5.5 billion persons, three
quarters of all of us on Earth, that live in the increasingly diffuse and porous interface of rural and
urban societies.
The study was commissioned by The Ford Foundation, and the terms of reference directed the
authors to focus on four entry points to review rural-urban linkages: the changing nature and borders
of rural and urban, food systems, labor markets, and domestic migration. The report is based on a
thorough review of the literature on these four specific subjects (384 publications are referenced),
seven commissioned papers and a limited number of interviews of experts from around the world.
The following is a summary of the main findings of the report:
1. On the significance of rural-urban linkages. The livelihoods of the majority of rural households,
including smallholder farmers, are hardly only rural; “rural” defines the main place of
residence, but no longer encompasses the spatial scope of livelihoods. The same is true of a
large number of “urban” households, whose livelihoods are intimately dependent on the rural
parts of the wider places where they also conduct their life. “Rural” and “urban” defined in the
traditional way, are conceptual lenses that distort our view of the reality of social processes
and can only lead to sub-optimal policies and investments. This is fairly well established in the
literature, yet rural development and rural livelihoods policy and practice, have for the most
part not internalized it. Urban development has also adopted a metropolitan bias, either with
urban as an undifferentiated category but with a distinctive de facto slant towards large cities,
and with policy and investments disproportionally focused on large agglomerations.
Deconstructing the rural-urban dichotomy is a necessary first step if any progress is going to
be made analytically or policy-wise.
2. On the definition of rural-urban linkages and of spaces with a socially-constructed identity at
the rural-urban interface. Rural-urban linkages are reciprocal flows of people, goods, services,
money and environmental services. Under certain conditions, aided by geographical proximity,
they can lead to interdependence between rural and urban, and to the formation of
intermediate rural-urban functional areas (territories) that very often cut across administrative
boundaries and that encompass a number of rural localities, as well as a few towns and small
and medium cities. Such areas cannot be treated as rural or as urban; they share elements of
both, and are distinct from both. Breaking the analytical, policy, programming and investment
silos between urban and rural development is essential to be able to promote the
development of these distinct societies, of the 5 billion people that live therein, and of the
spaces they occupy.
3. On rural livelihoods and inclusive rural-urban linkages. The evidence seems to show that
stronger rural-urban linkages tend to be beneficial for poor people, both rural and urban.
From the perspective of rural livelihoods, the potential benefits of rural-urban linkages include
greater social diversity and greater access to: primary product markets and to manufactured
goods and services beyond other neighboring rural villages; social services such as education
and health beyond the primary levels; financial services, and; non-farm employment
opportunities. Some of these benefits cannot be realized in rural areas that do not have
significant linkages to an urban location.

Related studies