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Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

Rural Development

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Most of the world’s poor still live in rural areas, and whilst poverty in the world’s growing cities is a major problem, a large proportion of the urban poor are migrants from rural areas. This module is about progress and change in the rural areas of developing countries. It is concerned with the factors driving rural change, how we define progress, and what can be done to bring about the overriding objective of rural development, which is to reduce, and eventually eliminate, poverty.
The world has changed considerably since rural development first began to attract the attention of academics and policy makers. Many of the challenges remain the same; however, there are also new ones, and the policies that were appropriate in the 1960s and 1970s are not necessarily those that are appropriate now. Indeed, a recurring theme in this module is the debate concerning agriculture’s role in rural development, especially the role of smallholder agriculture. As the world becomes more integrated through markets and improved communication, there is also increasing diversity within regions, as urban centres and accessible rural areas forge ahead of rural hinterlands.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

On completing this module, students will be able to:

  • Recognise and explain key concepts, ideas and debates in rural development and outline the main opportunities and constraints relating to the development of rural economies and the reduction of rural poverty
  • critically evaluate the contribution of different sectors, policies, services, and actors to the process of rural development
  • outline and discuss current debates regarding the roles of markets, the state, institutions, property rights, natural resources, agriculture and the rural non-farm economycritically evaluate past and existing attempts to supply rural services, such as infrastructure, finance, research and extension, health and education
  • analyse alternative policy options in terms of their potential impact on rural poverty, equity and economic growth, taking account of different regional and geographical circumstances

Scope and syllabus

Unit 1: Evolving themes in rural development

The opening unit looks at the origins of rural development, the state-led approaches to rural development that characterised the 1970s, and the shift away from such approaches in subsequent decades. The appropriate division of responsibilities between state, private sector, NGOs and other actors and related discussion of participation and sustainability are continued topics of debate and a recurring theme in this module.

Unit 2: Rural livelihoods

This unit asks questions about what it means to be poor and the nature of poverty. We introduce thinking about livelihoods, the concept of ‘entitlements’ as a means of understanding vulnerability, and discuss the processes of livelihood diversitfication.

Unit 3: Agricultural development

The unit outlines the distinctive features of the agricultural sector in developing countries, and looks at the role of agriculture in economic development over the past half-century. We compare strategies for agricultural development and consider the role of technological innovation and population growth and conclude with a look at food security, resource scarcity and population challenges

Unit 4: The rural non-farm economy

We examine here the characteristics and potential of the rural non-farm economy (RNFE), a sector which is an important source of rural income and employment across the developing world. We explore sector’s relationship with agriculture and ask how intersectoral relationships can be exploited to maximise the beneficial effects on rural income and employment levels.

Unit 5: Rural infrastructure

Roads and transport have an enormous influence on the ability of rural communities to access markets and essential services. In this unit we look at why infrastructure is important, why it has performed so poorly in the past, and what options exist for ensuring that infrastructure plays a more positive role in rural development. We conclude with a section focusing on communications infrastructure (roads, transport and ICT).

Unit 6: Rural finance

In this unit we examine the role of finance in rural development and the challenges involved in providing sustainable financial services to the rural poor. We consider different types of financial services and the factors influencing supply and demand in rural credit markets and the problems facing borrowers and lenders. Particular use is made of insights from new institutional economics to help us understand the way rural credit markets operate and what can be learnt from the enduring presence of informal sources of finance, despite the attempts of formal credit programmes to out-compete them.

Unit 7: Agricultural research and extension

This unit considers the role of agricultural research and extension in rural development, of its key characteristics, and the objectives, delivery, and financing of evolving research and extension approaches and systems. We explore appropriate roles for public, private and other stakeholders and ask when the public sector should act as a direct provider and when it should restrict itself to creating an enabling environment for other providers.

Unit 8:  Health and education

Health and education services are critical for the welfare of rural people and in expanding their opportunities for productive employment and increased incomes. In this unit we examine the roles of health and education in rural development, key challenges, the consequences of under-provision, and models for service delivery.

Unit 9: Land

Land is a fundamental resource with diverse economic and cultural values critical in rural peoples’ livelihoods. We explore the ecological, economic and socio-political characteristics of land, including associated property rights and policy, taking particular account of agro-ecology, historical background, and regional and spatial issues.

Unit 10: Water

This unit introduces the physical and economic characteristics of water, competition and scarcity in its different uses , and different management systems. This leads onto consideration of policy approaches to supply and demand management across multiple competing or complementary uses in the context of increasing water scarcity and vulnerability.

Module sample

P530 module uses a core text which is specially written and will take you through your self-directed study. Exercises, assignments and other activities, such as self-assessment questions, film clips and animations are included to help you with learning. Most module study guides are now provided in electronic format on a USB flash memory stick, but can also be downloaded from the online learning environment. Click the linked image below to view a sample of our e-study guide: