22/02/2017 - Article
How can rural territories contribute, both locally and globally, to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals? This is the question tackled by a book, "Des territoires vivants pour transformer le monde" to be presented on 27 February at the Paris International Agricultural Show. Patrick Caron, a geographer with CIRAD and Chair of the United Nations High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security, takes a new look at this question.
Why bother about rural territories?
Patrick Caron: In recent years, a great deal of attention has been paid to urban growth issues and the role of towns and cities in implementing sustainable development. These questions are obviously hugely important. However, they should not make us forget that rural territories are also a major force for sustainable development.
They are areas in which new types of governance are being invented, and which supply economic, social and environmental services that are essential for peace and social cohesion.
At a time when the ever-faster changes on our planet, particularly urbanization, are raising many issues, we feel it is important to look into the capacity of rural territories to contribute, both locally and globally, to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. The idea is that there can be no prosperity or peace, including in urban zones, without flourishing rural areas.
In concrete terms, what are we talking about?
P.C.: The aim is to understand and exploit territorial dynamics and riches better. For instance, we need to know how, on a territorial level, we can rely on collective constructs to organize agricultural production and manage land, water, grazing and forest resources. The strong hypothesis behind the book is that territories are major spaces for technical, organizational and political experimentation and innovation, and that this makes them a force for change with a view to achieving the SDGs.
However, we are not looking to idealize territories. They are also battlefields that can engender the exclusion and marginalization of some stakeholders. What we are interested in is determining when and how they can demonstrate that they are indeed a force for sustainable development.
What is the more important lever for action on a territory scale, between the private sector and public policy?
P.C.: When we talk about regulating for sustainable development, we often think about the State on one side and markets on the other. In the late 20th century, Elinor Ostrom, holder of the Nobel Prize for Economics, put forward the theory that commons were a third way of regulation. The way in which territories are seen here is similar to that concept. Territories, like States and markets, offer another space for regulation that complements and does not exclude these two spheres.
In our last book on agri-chains and sustainable development, we showed that it is at the intersection between agri-chains and territories that we can trigger virtuous circles, notably by upping the involvement of stakeholders. This new book confirms this: it is vital that territorial stakeholders control economic dynamics. By coordinating the economic dynamics of agri-chains and the capacity of territorial stakeholders to control those dynamics and make them into something positive, we can come up with original innovations and make territories a form of regulation for sustainable development.
Should donors be revising their strategy to take account of territories?
P.C.: The aim of the book is to share with donors and other development stakeholders our belief that we are really onto something. Investing in supporting territories is clearly all the more important in that agricultural and rural issues have been largely overlooked in recent years, with the drastic reduction in public support of the sector.
Global withdrawal of public funding from rural zones has already been discussed in a report on the state of world development, published in 2008 by the World Bank, just before the so-called hunger riots in 37 countries worldwide as a result of excessive cereal price volatility and limited purchasing power in urban areas. In 2013, a report by the UN High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security also stressed the dangers of such disinvestment.
In addition to donors, this question also concerns governments. The African Heads of State have made substantial commitments, notably in Maputo in 2003: they promised to devote at least 10% of public expenditure to agriculture. That commitment was repeated in 2014 in Malabo, but is not yet a reality in most of the countries concerned.
Each year, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) publish a book in the "Agricultures et défis du monde" collection (Editions Quae). The aim is to showcase the latest research results and facilitate policy decisions in terms of sustainable development. After biodiversity, family farming, climate change and the links between agri-chains and sustainable development, CIRAD and the AFD decided in 2016 to look into the notion of "territories".
Article first published on 21 February 2017 in the ID4D blog