Successful Rural Development Think Tank debates approaches to rural development

The  workshop purpose was to initiate a dialogue between the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR), sister departments, researchers and development practitioners which would help us better conceptualise what we understand by ‘rural development’ and to think through how this can best be implemented.

The session was facilitated by Rick de Satge of Phuhlisani. The Director General of the DRDLR Tozi Gwanya opened the proceedings and provided an overview of the current thinking of the Department in the development of the Comprehensive Rural Development Strategy.

The follow up session reviewed some lessons from the international experience

Prof Cousins from PLAAS noted that the move to locate land and agrarian reform in a wider rural development framework is a tremendous opportunity to confront rural poverty. He cautioned however that it also presents an enormous danger in that there is a risk that the department takes on an enormous set of responsibilities without a clear focus, and sets itself up for failure.

The key message of his  presentation was to develop a clear  focus in relation to goals and strategic objectives, the identification of beneficiaries and appropriate targeting and in the design of programmes and effective institutional arrangements for its delivery.

Prof Cousins highlighted a number of  key questions :

  • Is agricultural development the best way to reduce rural poverty?
  • Which is more efficient - Small or large farms?
  • What should be the scope and focus of development initiatives - what is included or excluded? How much focus should be on coordination, and how much on content?

Dr Guo Li from the World Bank spoke about the Chinese approach to rural development. He noted that international experience shows that important aspects of a rural development strategy include:

  • A clear understanding of the challenges being faced
  • An enabling policy environment – recognising that some of the policy shifts may be beyond the control of your department
  • Customized interventions to fit country specifics
  • Managed social impacts to ensure it is a broad-based growth process and that unintended consequences are mitigated  such as the creation of new forms of inequality
  • Integration of the rural development strategy with national economic and social development plans
  • Preparation of a detailed annual implementation plan with adequate budget and financial support
  • Effective monitoring to learn experience and to assist with the scaling up of  successful pilots

Prof Nomfundo Luswazi from the Centre for Rural Development at Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape emphasised the importance of creating of a knowledge base for rural development and made the case for a rural-based centres of excellence at universities. She suggested that the Think Tank is not an event but a process – and should have an institutional basis.

She criticised fragmented project-based rural development arguing that a a project here  and there, will make no impact.. The focus should rather be on the identification and development of support systems rather than projects. She cautioned that pilots should not be limited to seeking service delivery quick wins. That is effectively business-as-usual.

Professor Luswazi concluded by  reviewing the role of local government in driving rural development and addressing the needs of women who made up the majority of people in rural areas. She asked whether municipalities have the political space to pursue local development choices and preferences  or whether in fact they  have become mere implementers of national and provincial policy?

A presentation on the Second Economy Strategy Propject (SESP) by Josephilda Nhlapo and Neva Magetla from the Presidency argued that the phenomenon of de-agrarianisation in rural areas has affected  many whose dependence on wages, remittances  and work sets SA apart from other developing countries. This also impacts on our options with respect to the design of a rural development strategy.

Changing property rights by itself is inadequate; It needs to be accompanied by resources for production and access to inputs and markets. The SA economy is highly centralised, capital intensive and dominated by a set of monopoly industries.

The SESP has examined how money circulates into and out of rural areas highlighting that most poor people buy branded staple goods that are already mass-produced in the core economy, through retail networks which penetrate right throughout the rural areas. Small farmers targeting local markets can rarely compete.

There has been a tendency to focus on ‘projects’ that leave economic patterns unchanged. This is the key weakness identified by the Second Economy Strategy Project. Rural poverty is not just a legacy: it is being re-made – reconstituted as a result of persistent systemic problems. This requires a role for the state in shaping markets and enterprise development. We have to do something about the real economy: industrial policy, trade policy, in order to have an impact on conditions in rural areas.

They  observed that:

  • Reallocation of resources will be needed if we are serious about rural development
  • Per capita budget figures for provincial agriculture allocations have risen markedly in recent years. However it is still only about 5% of the total budget and we are not going to get major changes in rural development with that kind of budget
  • Local government spending is a problem and significant rural urban disparities exist:  Per capita spending ranges from R250 pp/yr in former homeland municipalities to about R4000 pp/yr in major urban centres.


Dr Devereux drew on work by the Future Agricultures Consortium comprising the Institute of Development Studies, Imperial College London and Overseas Development Institute. His input highlighted a series of questions which had to be addressed as part of the development of a rural development strategy

  • What is the vision for rural development?
  • Who is the driver?
  • Should the approach involve pilot projects or enabling national programmes?
  • Who is rural development for?

He argued that rural development strategy should proceed from a recognition of  differentiation, and interventions must be based on analysis. There are many categories and typologies of rural households to differentiate between different categories of wellbeing. He distinguished between:

  •  Households which are stepping up: These are surplus producers well connected to markets. The strategy here is to invest in them and support them directly. Mobilise into producer coops and so on. But at the same time we have to recognise that they are a minority of households.
  • Households which are stepping out: These semi- or sub-subsistence households which are diversifying their households. In order to support them effectively we need to understand the rural non-farm economy, opportunities for self-employment and petty trading, rural-urban linkages etc.
  •  Households which are hanging in: These are very poor, skipped generation households. Their objective is survival. They are not going to ‘graduate’. They require social protection and social grants. Social grants create independence and enable people to make choices. Direct cash transfers are proving to be much better than food aid with a higher return on investment. They support local markets and economies.


Siyabu Manona of Umhlaba Consulting in the Eastern Cape highlighted the poor state of co-operative governance and functional intergovernmental relations which was essential for rural development design and implementation as rural development wasa crosscutting mandate. he expressed concern that  we have taken a function that has been sitting in the Presidency and have devolved it to a ministry. He asked if coordination did not work then how can we expect to coordinate better when this function has been devolved to a lower level?

He argued that we have to revisit what we mean by coordination. It cannot be business as usual. The Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act has no carrots and no sticks and was not helping. Siyabu alos focused on the collapse of land administration in the former homeland areas which he argued has led to a stand-off between local government and traditional leaders. MIG spending is going to urban areas because planning by rural municipalities bears little relation to realities on the ground – traditional leaders are allocating land in another direction. The situation impedes infrastructure development and promotes conflict.

Ms Barabara Tapela highlighted how government approaches to rehabilitate smallholder irrigation schemes was now favouring large commercial enterprises who take over these schemes, through shareholding schemes and  take control of the production enterprise. Small farmers have now become equity holders and are either armchair farmers or work as labourers.  An assessment of the strategioc partnership approach to development was required

Ms Busi Mdaka reviewed the experience of the Integrated and Sustainable Rural Development Strategy highlighting some of the challenges of co-ordination in a programme which had no budget of its own but relied on trying to align government programmes within nodal areas.

Participants at the workshop who came from a variety of different government departments, private sector and NGOs responded to questions and a sysnthesis of the discussion prepared by Dr Ruth Hall. A draft report of the deliberations has been prepared and sent to DRDLR.

Phuhlisani is committed to promoting and facilitating genuine policy dialogue and enabling a more reflexive development practice through structured learning process approaches. We look forward to contributing to the development of a Green Paper on Rural Development

Posted: 8/25/2009 (5:08:57 AM)

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