Speech Commonwealth Business Forum

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Colombo, Sri Lanka

Dr. Turki Faisal Al Rasheed

12 November 2013


Title: Developing the Rural Economy for Sustainable Shared Growth


For 70% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas, agriculture is the main source of income and employment. But depletion and degradation of land and water pose serious challenges to producing enough food and other agricultural products to sustain livelihoods here and meet the needs of urban populations (FAO 2013).

The percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell in South Asia from 61% to 36% between 1981 and 2008. The proportion of poor people is lower now in South Asia than at any time since 1981. Yet the South Asia region is home to many of the developing world’s poor (World Bank).


Agriculture has played a key role in the development of human civilisation. Until the industrial revolution and the introduction of mechanisation, the vast majority of the human population laboured in agriculture, many often not even attaining subsistence levels in periods of hardship. However, the development of agricultural techniques steadily increased agricultural productivity (the widespread diffusion of these techniques during a time period is often called an agricultural revolution). A remarkable shift in agricultural practices occurred during the 20th century,          following the introduction of new technologies; and the concomitant increase in output encouraged a steady population increase, which in turn has driven the demand for further innovations.

At the beginning of the 21st century, about one third of the world’s workers are still employed in agriculture. However, the relative importance of farming has declined steadily since the beginning of industrialisation, and in 2003 – for the first time in history – the services sector overtook agriculture as the economic sector employing the greatest number of people worldwide.

There are more and more people to feed but fewer people working in the agricultural industries. At the same time, agricultural land is being squeezed. Therefore, we must look to sustainable agriculture for the enhancement of food security, alleviation of poverty and promotion of economic growth in the rural areas.

The growing need for sustainable agriculture around the world has fuelled a search for effective ways of delivering it. Sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, and is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities.

According to USDA (1990), sustainable agriculture can be defined as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having  a site-specific application that will, over the long term, satisfy human food and fibre needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

While there have been many efforts to foster economic development in rural areas, involving substantial public and private investments, most have failed. There is a pressing and widely recognised need for new approaches to rural economic development, drawing on broader learning about the sources of competitiveness in the global economy. A rural region needs a distinctive strategy that reflects its unique strengths, its particular mix of clusters, and which integrates its economy with the closest urban centres. Furthermore, in order for rural development to succeed it must take into account the following:


Food Security

For example, adopting new technological innovation, using Crop per Drop, and Cross-Country Investment

Alleviate Poverty

For example, building human capital by ensuring that the rural settlers have access to education, health care, employment and social safety nets

Economic Growth

For example, ensuring greater accountability and transparency of governments by building the capacity of legislative bodies and supreme audit institutions in their budget overseeing roles



‘In conclusion, it is clear that the global community needs to focus on developing the rural economy to encourage the sustainable shared growth vital to provide food security, alleviation of poverty and promotion of economic growth in the rural areas. The question is how best to achieve this.’



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