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Need for rural development programme
and its speedy implementation

The population of today’s Pakistan is estimated to be between 180 and 190 million, some 70 per cent of whom live in rural Pakistan. The rural Pakistan is, indeed, beautiful but regrettably, its rural economy has not been accorded due attention and resource commitments by the past successive governments, which has resulted in concentration of misery and uncontrollable inflow of migrants from there towards big cities and that has generated urban chaos. Following suit of the past rulers, the present ruling elite is also seen doing much less than the situation requires in the rural areas. Sadly, a casual treatment is given by our policy makers to the rural Pakistan. So far, economic growth has been concentrated in the cities rather than in the villages.

Urbanisation has been a growing phenomenon over the past couple of decades, partly due to labour migration and also population displacement resulting from the tribal clashes, lawlessness and kidnapping for ransom cases. Recurrence of severe droughts and environmental degradation in rural Sindh has also caused population movement from rural to urban areas particularly during the 1980s and 1990s.

Despite a rich endowment in natural resources, poverty being a widespread problem in Pakistan is deeply entrenched and largely rural. About 70 per cent of the population, and about 75 per cent of the poor, live in rural areas and agriculture provides livelihood to 60 per cent of the rural people. While visiting the rural parts of the country, one can witness the rural people living in the most brutal and inhuman living conditions. In the wake of recent floods, the rural Pakistan, particularly, Sindh is damaged and destroyed. Millions of people are affected, their homes are partially damaged or destroyed, livestock inundated, bridges and roads are swept away, and overflowing flood canals destroyed farmland and villages. Today’s rural Pakistan is in tears and troubles.

A few pertinent questions always agitate in my mind such as - what does the future hold for rural Pakistan? What role can and must the rural sector play in the national development? What are desired and possible transformational pathways? What are the institutional policies and practices for transformation at local, national, regional and global levels? How do our policy makers in Islamabad best take account of the answers to these questions? It is only time that will tell.

However, our present rulers and the policy makers must analyse the current situation and prospects for the rural sector to determine a comprehensive Rural Pakistan Transforming Programme. Our rulers and policy makers must respond to the challenges and opportunities of rural Pakistan. The government must now embark on a rural development agenda that takes care of the people in the villages. It is the ‘sine qua non’ for the government to tackle the menace of poverty of villages rather than the poverty of villagers. Villagers can not get rich so long as rural Pakistan, the villages remain poor – too poor to attract investment in agro-industry and commerce. More funds may be allocated for programmes that involve rural job guarantees, food subsidies and farm lending. Infrastructure development and investments in the rural sector will result in job creation, improve agricultural productivity and hopefully keep a check on prices.

In this backdrop it is proposed that the PPP-led coalition government could launch an Integrated Rural Future Programme (IRFP) which may understand the rural sector as a tool for human wellbeing, national development and global sustainability. The action of the IRFP must entail four initiatives.

The first initiative should be to rethink about the rural sector - rethinking the rural sector beyond the farm – for development and sustainability. The policy makers must rethink on local needs and interests which become the essential foundation for any discussion of the rural sector. They must rethink on national and regional setting and priorities - reflecting the ecological diversity and the political and social aspirations of the continent. They must rethink on ecosystems and their services - buffeted by often competing demands from local, national, regional and global actors. They must rethink on development regime and priorities - a regulated system, defined and funded by international convention, with influence on development policy, investment and practice. They must rethink on climate regime and priorities - a new and emerging system, with an increasing claim on the development regime and with relevance to a rural agenda. They must rethink on global markets and investments - recognising the implications of global demands and the progressive restructuring of the global marketplace on the rural economy and environment.

The second initiative may be about framing a rural agenda. This initiative must identify the conditions and frameworks for development and sustainability. Categories include - human wellbeing and the environment - taking account of the rural conditions, with equal attention to people’s wellbeing and the places in which they live. Rural economy and national development - underscoring the potential that rural development has as a powerful pathway for economic development - agriculture and its linkages - understanding both the synergies and tensions between agriculture, forests, land use, food security, and climate change mitigation and adaptation, rural livelihoods and development. Governance and democratisation - emphasising the role of decentralisation processes in the transformation of rural societies. Globalisation and structural transition - facing up to the competitive challenge presented by globalisation and the risk of marginalisation for a large segment of Pakistan’s rural population.

The third initiative may be about moving into action. This initiative may identify actions that best position the rural sector to enhance human wellbeing, national development and sustainability. Categories include - Developing a theory of change - the building blocks necessary to advance rural transformation, Understanding and acting on what we don’t know - the analysis and methodologies necessary to advance rural transformation. Making a case for Rural Futures - the advocacy, engagement and outreach necessary to advance rural transformation. Identifying early actions - the institutional, policy and practice interventions and investments to showcase innovative approaches to rural transformation. Operating at scale - the institutional, policy and practice interventions and investments necessary to advance rural transformation. Demanding accountability - the critical pathway to assuring rural transformation.

The fourth initiative may be about mobilising support. This initiative must identify steps to support the launch of a Rural Futures initiative. The categories entail – Making the case for Rural Futures - emphasising the potential for continental initiatives, regional leadership and national action. Facilitating the participation of membership organisations and coalitions - emphasising the need for grassroots support. Securing national and regional endorsement - emphasising the collaborative nature of the Rural Future initiative. Engaging international partners - emphasising the necessity to align their goal, activities and investment with continental, regional leadership and national priorities. This programme must promote the alignment of development, environment and climate institutions, policies, interventions and decision-making. It will advance this alignment by supporting the development of new analytical approaches and coordinated action around a common understanding of Pakistan’s rural condition and vision. The Integrated Rural Future Programme must serve a practical application to streamline operations and programmes that will benefit the rural sector and contribute to socio-economic transformation and development of the country.

Precisely speaking, rural Pakistan’s economy is fundamental to the well-being of rural and urban populations alike, to the prospects for national development, and to global sustainability. Since the rural emphasis is long overdue, it is the quality of investment that matters. However, the said Program will become a catalyst for socio-economic development what it needs political will and bureaucratic sincerity to transform the deprived and denied rural Pakistan into a developed and dynamic rural Pakistan.

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