Espace rural petites et moyennes collectivités et gouvernance mondiale Rural Areas and World Governance
Details of the Proposal

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Rurality issues


Four major trends characterize today’s world:

  • global population that is set to keep rising until 2050, when it will reach 9.5 billion;
  • this growth will be particularly strong in cities. 2007 marked the moment when, for the first time in history, the urban population became more numerous than the rural population; this imbalance is set to widen;
  • cities often expand onto the most fertile lands;
  • urbanization tends to concentrate on coastal areas, bordering seas and major rivers;
  • water and energy problems are set to continue, due both to demographic growth and global warming;
  • food supplies for poor city dwellers are problematic, as illustrated by the recent food crisis.


It may seem strange to begin a Proposals Paper on rurality by talking about the massive urbanization humanity will be facing over the next century. The fact is that urban centres have historically had a strong economic, social, political and cultural impact on the countryside. This influence will only increase once the majority of the planet’s population lives in cities, to the extent that the existence of almost exclusively rural civilisations, as witnessed in the past, has become hard to imagine in today’s world, impossible to imagine for tomorrow’s world. The rural world will have no choice other than carving out a place for itself that fits within the urban world. There is the added factor that urban populations are made up mainly of rural people; if we go back two or three generations, they were almost exclusively rural in origin.


Defining rural areas


How can we define rural areas and the population that inhabits them? The rural concept is defined in relation both to wilderness areas and urban areas.


In relation to wilderness areas, rural areas are those managed relatively intensively by humans. The term “relatively intensively” is used since wilderness areas are themselves managed. We therefore need to accept that the boundary between them is somewhat blurred. But we can identify rural areas as places inhabited by sedentary populations where each plot of land is owned, either individually or collectively, or has a manager that usually uses it for an economic activity. This is what distinguishes rural areas from large sparsely-populated natural and wilderness areas.

Although the boundary between wilderness areas and rural areas is difficult to define, the boundary between rural areas and urban areas is a matter of pure convention.


What size does a settlement have to reach to stop being a hamlet and become a village, to graduate from village to market town, market town to small town, small town to medium-sized town, and from there to large town and on to megalopolis? Settlements of between eight and ten thousand inhabitants are called villages in India but towns in Europe. However, it is clear that once a settlement has reached a certain size, it is so big that relations between its centre and the surrounding countryside become more tenuous if not non-existent — in inhabitants’ imaginations at least. The same does not apply to supplies and, most especially, waste: the city dweller might well know nothing of the countryside, but it remains nonetheless vital to the metropolis. It is true however that the notion of surrounding countryside no longer has any real meaning for many inhabitants of major cities. The city thus becomes a world of its own, whose inhabitants no longer visit rural areas on the fringes of their urban universe. They may in fact never have frequented these fringe areas, since many city dwellers are migrants or descended from migrants from far-off places. If they do visit the countryside, it is usually faraway, their place of birth. A parallel development is that cities’ needs are growing to such an extent that they can no longer be met by adjacent rural areas, and cities begin to trade with far-off regions in a process which further weakens the bond that ties them to surrounding rural areas. So where can we position the boundary between rural and urban in this context? Between approximately 20,000 and 100,000 inhabitants depending on the transport infrastructure and state of conservation. We then have to accept that the notion of rural will be expanded (in the broad sense of the term) to include settled areas whose activities and more modest size exclude them from the category of metropolis, and that remain closely linked to the surrounding areas. If we are determined to define a precise boundary, we can place it at 30,000 inhabitants, keeping in mind the arbitrary character of this figure. When rural areas are extended in this way, they also include managed forested areas, farming areas and settled areas. These areas offer a huge diversity of situations, from prosperous zones to those in decline, from sparsely populated areas, possibly on the point of being abandoned, to high population density and very active zones with a network of towns and trade activities.


These areas share a common set of challenges that they all have to face:

  • using farming, forestry and freshwater fish-farming to manage artificial ecosystems for producing food and raw materials whilst adopting a sustainable ecological approach;
  • retaining a degree of cultural, political, demographic and economic autonomy in the face of developing cities;
  • increasingly, supplying new global amenities — such as contributions to climate balance and water purification.


These shared challenges enable us to distinguish a number of key issues:

  • rural areas’ political and cultural capacities;
  • the production of economic resources (food, fuel and textiles);
  • protection of vital natural resources (water, soil, biodiversity).


We have opted to classify the proposals below according to these three categories.


What about cities?


It is clear that rural areas’ long-term prosperity will be far easier to achieve if urban areas themselves succeed in developing harmoniously. It is also apparent that cities’ extreme economic and biological dependence on rural areas requires co-ordinated development and a rethink of the nature of exchanges between cities and rural areas.


Proposals and abstracts


Summary of Proposals


  • I. Preserving political and cultural capacities
    • 1. Strengthen local democracy
    • 2. Local money and credit
    • 3. Decentralize education and decision-making centres
    • 4. Reinforce local government
    • 5. Open up paths of communication between rural dwellers
    • 6. Promote skills and support rural popular education
    • 7. Establish networks of medium-size towns
    • 8. Strengthen local cultural life
  • II. Producing resources
    • 9. A stabilizing agricultural policy
    • 10. Ensure easy access to market information
    • 11. Modify the land ownership model
    • 12. Participative seed selection
    • 13. Encourage migration to rural areas
    • 14. Energy and organic materials
  • III. Protecting vital natural resources
    • 15. Ecological tax system
    • 16. Forestry energy policy
    • 17. Support agroforestry
    • 18. Halt urbanization of the best land
    • 19. Reverse the market-based approach to greenhouse gases