One of the most predominant narratives surrounding methods of poverty reduction is the need for industrialization and urbanization for increased economic activity and productivity. However, this often overshadows other sides to the story, which is the need to invest in rural communities as they are, rather than encouraging urban migration. This helps to alleviate poverty in a more sustainable manner, with a grassroots focus that can create attainable changes in everyday lives. This article will focus on the need for rural investment and its impacts and will spotlight examples of projects in rural areas.
Why Is Investment in Rural Areas Necessary?
The issue of poverty is, in general, much more heightened in rural areas than urban ones, predominantly due to issues such as malnutrition, lack of inclusivity, remote locations, poorer market access and lack of opportunities and connectivity.
Issues such as malnutrition can inhibit children from accessing education and constrain their physical and mental health, limiting their ability to become productive adults and generate economic means to alleviate poverty.
The remote location of rural areas and the additional lack of transportation means that rural businesses and producers have a much more difficult time selling goods and conducting business, limiting their economic capacity and commerce potential.
The agricultural sector, which is the dominant industry in most rural spaces, is being heavily impacted by climate change. Droughts, wildfires, flooding and pollution are becoming heavily exacerbated, severely limiting the output of local farmers and subsistence communities.
Economic activities occurring in rural areas largely consist of ‘repetitive tasks’ and ‘low economic diversification,’ accelerated by an ever-growing brain drain of skilled workers abroad and to urban areas. As a result, these communities are facing a risk of their jobs becoming automated, potentially lowering employment opportunities in such areas.
Lack of connectivity across rural communities prevents continual and sustainable growth of businesses, meaning that rural enterprises often find themselves limited and in competition with urban firms that have a much larger collection of resources and access to greater markets.
These vulnerabilities and economic difficulties that rural communities are faced with means that the dwellers often move to more urban areas, seeking a better quality of life, employment and education. However, this increased urbanization is not necessarily a problem-free approach to reducing poverty, as the heightened cost of living, crime, housing crises and job competition can frequently drive individuals into deeper poverty.
However, one of the solutions for this urbanization/rural poverty problem lies in tech investment in rural areas, which is proving to be an effective help in rural development and is engendering positive change in many individuals’ lives.
How Will Tech Investment in Rural Areas Help Alleviate Poverty?
Innovative technologies such as decentralized water treatment devices using membrane filtration, which the International Environmental Research Institute initiated alongside the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in Indonesia and Cambodia, are helping to heighten sustainable water security levels. This project provided water treatment units to two secondary schools in Indonesia and Cambodia, expanding to provide communities across 13 countries in Asia and the South Pacific with similar technology. Better water security lowers the risk of water-borne diseases and leads to more productive agricultural output, which can alleviate malnutrition and thus engender positive multi-generational patterns, helping children reach their full potential as working adults.
Contemporary tech investment in rural areas consists of projects abiding by the Sustainable Development Goals, meaning that they have a specific focus on being gender inclusive. For example, UN Women and the African Union launched African Girls Can Code in 2018, which recruits girls from predominantly rural areas to train them in computer programming and digital communication skills in order to overcome the gender divide in STEM. The program aims to educate at least 2,000 girls from ages 17 to 25 to kickstart careers in computer programming and other technological fields.
Lastly, tech investments in rural areas can be effective in transforming the way small businesses and producers operate, increasing their reach, productivity and access to markets and customers. For example, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is operating a number of small-scale technological projects to help alleviate rural poverty. One such project was the development of an e-marketing platform in al-Houz, Morocco, to improve the reliability of agricultural sales and thus the living conditions of farmers and their families. The site, named Hawli.Haouz, assists sheep farmers in selling their livestock. The project has been remarkably successful, with an overall output of roughly $65,000 in its first year, which has quintupled in the following years.
Projects like these illustrate that tech investment in rural areas can help alleviate poverty. Struggles such as malnutrition, water insecurity, gender exclusion, lack of connectivity and remoteness often render rural communities unable to lift themselves out of poverty. However, with small-scale yet effective projects involving innovative technology, the accumulation of direct changes in individuals’ lives will help to raise the overall quality of life, and provide better access to employment and growth opportunities for businesses in rural areas, without the downfalls that the trap of urbanization can often create.
– Eleanor Moseley