Summary (Shortened version, verbatim)

On Rural Development by Julius K. Nyerere: address to the Food and Agricultural Organisation World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, Rome, 13th. July, 1979

Under the economic, political and social systems at present operating, the world’s people are divided into two groups – those with access to its resources and those without access. Those with access to existing resources – the rich – can afford to invest heavily in the production of greater wealth, so they get richer. The poor have very little to invest; their productivity consequently remains low and they remain poor. Worse still, the market laws of supply and demand mean that the wealth of the few diverts the world’s resources – including the labour of others – from meeting the real but ineffective demand of the poor into satisfying the luxury desires of the rich. Land and labour are used to cultivate grapes instead of grain; palaces are built instead of houses for the workers and peasants.

The automatic market tendency to favour the rich is aggravated by the fact that political power also flows naturally to the ‘haves’ of the world – the educated and those persons or societies which have inherited public or private capital. The result is that publicly produced wealth also benefits the wealthy more than the poor, accrues to the towns rather than to the rural areas and serves the educated rather than those without academic opportunity or ability.

Until now we have in general been trying to tackle the problem of poverty – including rural poverty – by directing resources into the existing system and hoping that it will ‘trickle down’ to the poor. Some of it does. But the major benefit of the new investment stays where it began – with the man who already has and in proportion to the wealth which he already has. The poor benefit – or sometimes suffer- from the side effects; or they receive the crumbs left over.

The lesson to be drawn is surely that fighting poverty is not just a question of production techniques and capital investment. It is a highly political topic. It involves matters relating to the existing wealth distribution and the present location of power within nations and between nations. For the root of world poverty, as well as the mass of it, lies in the rural areas. Urban poverty is more obvious – the slums and degradation of some towns in the developing countries force themselves upon the notice of the richest citizen and upon the most casual visitor from other states. But the bulk of the slum inhabitants and the beggars on our streets have migrated to towns because they are pushed out of the rural areas by landlessness, joblessness and hopelessness . It is therefore in the rural areas that we can most effectively tackle the long-term problems of urban poverty, as well as dealing with the mass misery which now exists unseen – hut not unfelt by its sufferers. Trying to deal with mass poverty by improving conditions and providing work in the towns simply attracts more and more people from the depressed rural areas.

An effective attack on world poverty can only be made by going direct to the rural areas and dealing with the problems there. The objective is and must be the provision of food, clothing, shelter, education, and health services, for everyone, under conditions which provide for universal human dignity. That objective can only be achieved if certain basic facts are recognised and acted on.

First among these is that those who own land will use it for their own benefit. If the land in a state is owned by a small number of people, these can be relied upon to maximise their own private income from that land by using for whatever crop will bring most profit to themselves. If the land is owned by the peasants, either individually or collectively, it will be used to meet their needs. Actions which transfer land to the people are an essential first step in the fight against poverty.

Even if effective land reform is carried out, that is not enough. The poor who have gained land under it – again whether privately or cooperatively – have to have access to credit, to improved seeds and tools, and to new knowledge, if the transfer of power over the land’s resources is to be permanent and to lay the basis for future development. But ‘Land to the Peop1e’ is not a solution on its own.

If poverty is to be abolished in the rural areas, farming activities must be efficient. Rural industries must be established to process the farmers’ crops and provide many of their domestic and agricultural goods. Forestry and animal husbandry must use land not suitable for arable farming. Water control and land conservation measures must be built to increase the productivity of the land at the same time as they provide clean water and possibly power. Schools, dispensaries, sports facilities, and so on, need to be established. This kind of diversification of the rural economy is an essential part of the struggle f0r human development and human dignity. At least in the initin1 phases of our development our agriculture and our rural service industries need to be labour intensive rather than capital intensive.

But to say that the rural areas must produce a surplus to finance diversification is to beg the question. Rural areas do produce a surplus now. The trouble is that it is extracted and used to finance luxurious consumption pattern of the rich and the kind of development in urban areas which will support the present economic structures. The surpluses are extracted by the comparative pricing of primary products and manufactured goods. It is done also by the combination of regressive taxation and the allocation of Government expenditure to services needed by town dwellers rather than those needed by the people in the villages. Rural development and the diversification of the rural economy which it involves will not take place without fundamental changes in the present approach to development and to government activities.

This implies giving priority to universal primary and technical education in preference to advanced studies in the humanities, or indeed to much in the way of post-graduate professional studies. It also implies that rural dispensaries and health centres will have to be given preference over sophisticated hospital services for the few.

Although internationally we are still at the stage of regarding a transfer of resources from the rich to the poor as being a matter for the voluntary decision of the rich, there is no excuse for such an attitude within nations. Giving land to the people and acting to ensure that rural surpluses are retained in the rural areas is essential; but it is only the first step. It has to be combined with deliberate policies which transfer resources from these wealth producing sectors to the financing of social and productive capital in the rural areas. This can be done either by government control and pricing policies, or by the taxation structure, or by a judicious mixture of the two.

It is surely quite obvious that as rural development has all these implications it will not occur unless governments are absolutely committed to attacking poverty at its roots in the rural areas. But that is not the whole answer, Governments by themselves cannot achieve rural development. They can only facilitate it and make it possible. For rural development is people’s development of themselves, their lives end environment.

If the people are to be able to develop they must have power. They must be able to control their own activities within the framework of their village communities. The people must participate not just in the physical labour involved in economic development, but also in the planning of it and in the determination of priorities. At present, the best intentioned governments – my own included – too easily move from a conviction of the need for rural development into acting as if people had no ideas of their own. This is quite wrong. Both political and economic power has to be held by the people within the village, in the Region and in the nation, if development is to be in the people’s interests. It is through cooperation that each of us develops his own potential and receives personal identity.

Within our developing countries there is a tendency to think that if you have made a budgetary allocation for something called ‘rural development’, then the rest or government policies and expenditure patterns can go on as before. Such attitudes defeat any hope of rural development, or of implementing a ‘basic needs approach’. Rural development, for example, requires greater use of fertilisers, with the consequential need for a fertiliser plant, or a phosphate mine, or both. It needs a factory to produce animal-drawn ploughs, harrows, seeders and another producing tractors and bulldozers. It needs electrical power, both for decent living in the rural areas and for village industries. A rural development strategy thus requires a whole industrial and communications development policy, which is geared to the needs of the rural areas and the masses who live in them. Every aspect of government and public activity, in other words, has to be angled towards promoting mass welfare in the rural areas, while yet enabling the urban areas to service effectively the rural areas from which their sustenance comes and which are their justification for existing.

Everything which I have said in relation to the implications of a strategy of rural development within nations can also be applied to international economic and political relationships. Under the present world economic order the rich and industrialised areas – regardless of whether these are capitalist or socialist – automatically, as well as by the exercise of naked power, extract from the poor and rural areas even that little which they have. It is done through the pricing mechanisms of primary products relative to manufactured goods, by the virtual monopoly of international transportation facilities, by the control of world currency and credit which is exercised by the rich nations – and by a hundred other so-called market forces.

The fundamental imbalance between the world’s rural and urban nations – between the industrial and the primary producer areas – is not yet universally recognised as the root causes of world economic problems and world poverty. It is clear that a strategy for rural development has two aspects. One is internal within the nations of the Third World. The other, equally important, is external to any single nation; it involves the whole world. The problem of poverty cannot be effectively tackled unless there is action on both fronts simultaneously.

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