Trade and Industry

Friday, 15 June 2001

Towards a Workable Rural Development Strategy

  • Year: 2001
  • Organisation: TIPS
  • Author(s): Peter Delius; Stefan Schirmer

The paper puts forward a workable rural development strategy. It shows on which principles, which historical realities and which statistical facts such a strategy should be based. It looks at what the government is doing to promote rural development and suggests ways in which current policies could be improved, expanded and refined.

The paper starts by reviewing the statistical literature on rural poverty to demonstrate how desperate the situation is and how urgent the need for action. In order to provide a greater sense of process and of detail the paper then looks at some of the dynamics that have shaped and are shaping different parts of rural South Africa. In this section the paper covers agricultural transformation, changing labour markets, rural differentiation, patterns of urbanisation, levels of education, institutional changes and gender discrimination. In the third part of the paper government programmes such as land reform, agricultural development policies, integrated rural development programmes, the education policy and the welfare policy are reviewed. We offer constructive criticisms and ways to add to these policies in order to make our vision of rural development a reality. We also suggest that government should focus more attention on strengthening
the organisational capacity of rural people.

Our key findings are, first, that rural deprivation was extreme and that the majority of rural South Africans exist in desperate circumstances. These circumstances make it very difficult for them to take initiatives on their own that would reduce their deprivation in relation to urban areas. Second, we find that agriculture in previous ‘homeland’ areas has all but been destroyed while employment opportunities within white agriculture have become extremely limited. Nevertheless, rural areas have become increasingly differentiated with rural residents becoming divided into at least four categories of income earners, ranging from those with access to highly-paid local jobs to those with no income at all. Third, we find that urbanisation is an ongoing trend that cannot be ignored, but, at the same time, there are still various factors that keep some people from leaving their rural homes. Fourth, school attendance has been increasing steadily among rural youths for the past twenty years, but the levels and quality of schooling attained is often poor, which makes it difficult for rural school-leavers to find jobs. Fifth, there is much institutional confusion and weakness in the rural areas, which undermine projects launched at the local level. Lastly, we find that gender discrimination is an ongoing problem in the rural areas.

The paper comes to the following policy conclusions:

  • Land reform and agricultural development are both important and worthwhile initiatives in making some difference, and tackling the inequities perpetrated by apartheid, but agriculture cannot be the central pillar of a workable rural development programme. There are some ways, however, in which land reform and agricultural development could be improved. State-owned land and even land purchased by the state for the specific purpose of redistribution could be used as part of a supplementary redistribution and agricultural development programme.
  • Land reform and agricultural development policies must be part of a more comprehensive, integrated rural development policy. This, in our view, is the best way to undertake a rural development programme. Existing initiatives must be speeded up, extended and refined. Rural development interventions should be based on realistic budgets, an understanding of what rural people want and how existing interventions could be improved and linked to the priorities of people on the ground. This requires extensive and careful research, as well as innovative thinking on the part of policy-makers.
  • Identifying mechanisms for using existing resources and levels of funding more effectively must be part of any strategy for rural education. Consideration must be given to achieving rigorous monitoring and evaluation of the performance of particular schools and individual teachers. This process should be coupled with creating significant incentives for teachers to perform effectively and to acquire appropriate skills. Equally important is providing rural learners with access to information technology.
  • There is little doubt that transfers will continue to play a vital role in the foreseeable future and there is also a strong argument for expanding the net by, for example, the payment of some kind of dole to the unemployed. The crucial issues that have to be debated relate both to the macroeconomic implications of such a policy and the micro issues related to effective targeting of resources. Would it be possible to develop effective targeting strategies that do not involve cumbersome and expensive bureaucracies?
  • The government should promote organisations that seek to represent unemployed and disempowered rural people. Women’s organisations should especially be targeted. The role of the government should be to provide encouragement,
    funding, and expertise to existing organisations that have already proven themselves. Care must be taken not to create artificial organisations that have been set up for the purpose of attaining available government funds and are not representative of marginalised groups.