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Rural areas: an engine for employment

Thierry Laplanche
20 April 2017
Decent work in rural areas is a must if we want to achieve the pledge enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): no-one left behind. That is the conclusion of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a major partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation.


Rural areas in developing countries could provide a vast amount of jobs, but poverty and hardship are still the predominating features of these areas. Around 80% of the poor are inhabitants of rural areas. Since their subsistence agriculture does not yield enough, they are forced to earn a wage elsewhere. 300 to 500 million inhabitants of rural areas work as salaried employees for other farmers, often in plantations. Child labour is widespread (98 million child workers!), and even forced labour.

The causes of poverty in rural areas are manifold: poor infrastructure, insufficient resources to increase agricultural production, limited access to services such as education, finance and healthcare, an unfavourable business environment, weak institutions, etc. On top of this is the fact that rural development often falls outside the remit of the Ministries of Work. As such, rural areas are associated with agricultural production, which therefore falls under Agriculture. And yet the Ministries of Work have an essential role to play in boosting the rural economy.

Rural areas need to shake off their image of misery and develop into attractive places for employment. The potential is there!

Rural areas need to shake off their image of misery and develop into attractive places for employment. The potential is there! Demand for food is growing around the world, and rural areas can take advantage of this. There is however a need for modernisation and investment in the education and skills of young people in rural areas. Moreover, a rural economy is more than just farmers. For example, it also encompasses the processing and marketing of agricultural products, tourism, services and mining.

Ministries for Work therefore need to place more emphasis on rural areas. The ILO can support them in this respect. In recent times, the organisation has set good examples itself. For example, in Kenya, it has improved access to financial services, in India and Nepal it has invested in infrastructure, in Zimbabwe it has supported women in rural areas, and in Paraguay, Ecuador and Bolivia, it has promoted the processing of agricultural products. If no-one is to be left behind, the potential of rural areas must be fully realised.

Source: ILO

Rural economy ILO