Challenges and opportunities of rural transformation [ID: 227]

Challenges and opportunities of rural transformation

Rural transformation is defined as a process of change in rural areas, which depends on many factors and dynamics; the challenges and opportunities of rural transformation derive from rural-urban linkages and depend on many sectors inside and outside of agriculture.

The complexity of rural transformation calls for multi-layered governance and the addressing of rural transformation processes demand new forms of technical and financial assistance. The international debate on the structural and political changes in rural areas is vivid and ongoing. There are several, partly newly established, international working groups and forums that explore the central and unifying role rural transformation will play in the implementation of Agenda 2030. Following these developments, in January 2017, the Annual General Assembly of the Platform tooke place in Brussels upon invitation of the European Commission and its topic was the future role of donor agencies and international finance institutions in guiding the process of rural transformation. All activities of the Platform – be it the engagement in the different work streams or in the Strategic Initiative Agenda 2030 of the Platform, constitute a longer-term exercise in close cooperation with a growing number of institutions and initiatives which are mentioned in this section, towards the better informed positioning of donor programmes within the new development framework.

Definitions of rural transformation

While definitions vary, rural transformation is recognised as a process impacting on development with or without interventions. In other words, it constitutes the dynamics in the rural space and does not by itself provide directions for sustainable development. A standard definition of Julio Berdegué that has been prominently adopted by CAADP, takes rural societies as starting point:

Julio Berdegue/ The Rural Transformation

Rural Transformation is a process of comprehensive societal change whereby rural societies diversify their economies and reduce their reliance on agriculture; become dependent on distant places to trade and to acquire goods, services, and ideas….

In many low and middle-income countries, rural areas are undergoing fundamental processes of change that affect not only their economic structure but also their social, cultural and political fabric. Historically, rural transformation has been compared to the economic transformation from agricultural to industrial economies that was witnessed in many parts of Europe in the 19th century and across Asia and Latin America in the 20th century. Yet this concept does not suffice to describe the various simultaneous and intertwining dynamics that are impacting or taking place in the rural space of developing countries today and the more complex and rapidly changing framework conditions that they are set in.

Irrespective of the definitional nuances, there is consensus that rural transformation is a complex and on-going process in the rural space in all countries. The effects of this process extend beyond the transformation of the agricultural sector and even beyond economic transformation and with some quite negative effects in many low- and middle-income countries. However, the direction and effects of these rural transformation processes can be shaped and steered to prevent and mitigate negative effects and produce outcomes that are beneficial for rural populations on a national and subnational level. The process of rural transformation must thus be addressed by a policy agenda aimed at making rural transformation ecologically more sustainable and socially inclusive.

Rural transformation trends and driving forces

  • Population growth
  • Climate Change and Resource Degradation
  • Globalisation
  • Urbanisation and Rural-Urban Linkages
  • Migration and mobility
  • Agricultural modernisation

Cross-sectoral policy priorities, programming and governance

In order to effectively address the process of rural transformation, a higher level of policy coherence between the desired overall development path and agriculture, food security and nutrition will be required. Special attention will have to be paid to link sectors like basic services (energy, infrastructure etc.) with economic opportunities within and outside agriculture. Moreover, inclusive transformation can only be shaped successfully when associated with the establishment of multi-level governance structures that support and manage social, environmental and economic development in an appropriate equilibrium and thrive for inclusiveness.

The action fields below address challenges (or “need for action”) and present opportunities that arise for the rural space in the light of ongoing rural transformation processes. It is obvious that these action fields are and cannot be new and are addressed already by partners and donors. These action fields were listed here based on the hypothesis that shaping rural transformation processes requires interventions and corresponding approaches that go beyond the “traditional” sectoral action fields of agricultural and rural development programming, looking at Agenda 2030 and the requirements to achieve sustainable development. A phased approach needs to be taken and the action fields below should provide only some food for thought to establish a more comprehensive development agenda for the rural space.

Developing adequate policy solutions in a phased approach based on available capacity and finance can be thought of as “ARD+” whereby the plus stands for policy fields that are intrinsically linked to agricultural policies and that have potential synergies that should be exploited to achieve the kind of multi-sectoral and holistic approaches that are needed to address the challenges developing rural areas in the light of rural transformation processes.

Downloads Agenda 2030 [ID: 244]


Studies and Notes

  • Background paper on rural transformation (PDF, 751.7 KiB) The background paper offers an overview of the challenges and opportunities arising from the process of rural transformation. The paper looks into the possible political entry points for donors and the importance of the process for the implementation of Agenda 2030.


Contacts Agenda 2030 [ID: 245]

Contact | Secretariat

Laura Barrington

Policy Advisor


Contact | Member

Mauro Ghirotti

Italian Development Agency for International Cooperation

Contact | Member

Annelene Bremer

Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development