Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)
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This paper reviews the current state of literature on the impacts of urbanisation on rural development in developing countries, with an emphasis on Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Assessments of these effects diverge greatly. While some authors see urbanisation as strongly benefitting rural areas, for instance, through increased demand for agricultural goods and services, others highlight negative effects, for example, through the loss of livelihoods emanating from displacements and the conversion of agricultural land. Given this complexity, a review that thoroughly analyses the causal relationships between urbanisation and rural development is warranted. To do this, this Discussion Paper identifies seven channels through which urbanisation affects rural development: i) production and consumption linkages; ii) employment linkages; iii) financial linkages; iv) land market linkages; v) information and public service linkages; vi) social interactions linkages; and vii) environmental externalities. As to the first channel, production and consumption linkages, the review suggests that urbanisation has increased demand for agricultural products and services; natural resources; commercialisation and modernisation of agricultural technologies; and smallholders’ participation in modern agricultural value chains. The employment channel suggests that rapid urbanisation is enabling the diversification of rural livelihoods by bringing new economic opportunities to rural areas, but the effects have not been uniform across countries and communities. With regard to financial linkages, flows from cities have increased in many developing countries, benefitting rural areas; yet some studies point to no or to negative effects due to reduced agricultural productivity from the loss of labour and technology, and the crowding out of investment. Land market effects are particularly heterogeneous. While urbanisation tends to drive land value up and encourages investments, there are also negative developments in terms of crowding out and speculation. As to information and public service linkages, the review suggests that urbanisation has fostered information and knowledge flows from urban areas to rural areas which have improved income, innovation, and employment. Social interactions among urban and rural citizens more generally may bridge cultural gaps, improve the flow of information, knowledge, and resources pertinent for rural economic transformation, and thereby enhance social cohesion; yet little empirical evidence exists so far in terms of effects and causalities. Finally, urbanisation affects rural development through the environmental externalities it generates: waste disposal, environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity. If appropriate technologies are put in place, urbanisation can also improve waste management and soil fertility, thus reducing the cost of agricultural production. To this end, the review has identified research gaps that have important policy implications. First, although effective rural-urban planning, monitoring and evaluation of rural-urban development policies require better data, there is lack of data collection systems or their quality is poor. In this respect, investing in emerging data sources such as satellites data can help countries improve their data collection systems and measures. Second, research is needed to revise and reformulate better theoretical frameworks that take into account the uniqueness of African urban cities. Third, empirical evidence which documents to what extent and how rural-urban linkages provide an important arena for improving social interactions among neighbours, societies, and communities is needed. Finally, as many African countries continue to experience rapid urbanisation (mostly urban sprawl), a thorough study of the impacts of urban externalities on agricultural productivity, food security, biodiversity, and the health of rural communities is necessary.