Rural-Proofing of Policy – An Overview of International Best Practices

As part of the RPP Programme, RHAP’s Daygan Eagar conducted a desktop review of international best practices in relation to rural-proofing of policy. 

Summary and Key Recommendations

Globally, rural populations tend to fair worse on important socioeconomic indicators than their urban counterparts. They tend to be poorer, are unemployed in greater numbers, have worse health outcomes and have less access to the social and economic opportunities to improve their situation.

Despite clear systemic inequalities between rural and urban contexts, until the early 1990s policy approaches to rural development and service delivery had focused almost exclusively on agricultural development and reform. Prompted by the efforts of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to promote its ‘New Rural Paradigm’ as an alternative way of thinking about rural policy, many of the OECD’s member states undertook policy reforms that comprehensively changed how the ‘rural context’ was catered for in government processes.

Both developed (Key examples include England, Finland and Canada) developing nations (key examples include Mexico and China) broadened their rural policy approaches to include a broader range of social and economic services that would promote greater equity between urban and rural settings. There are a number of important lessons from these examples that give insight into the structural and process reforms that could be put in place to do this.  These include:

  •  The formation of a stand-alone statutory body that is mandated to coordinate and oversee the development/revision of policy and its implementation that caters for the needs of rural communities and contexts. This includes the coordination of partnerships between implementing agencies and departments to ensure greater efficiency and impact
  • A rural policy strategy that legally requires that all social and economic policy under development/review be rural-proofed, i.e. policies are examined objectively to determine if they have a different impact in rural areas to urban areas and that adjustments are made to account for rural need and contextual factors
  • The development of guidelines and toolkits that should be used by policymakers to rural-proof  policy
  • The participation of academe and civil society to fill technical gaps
  • The mainstreaming of rural policy into sector specific policy rather than the development of stand alone sectoral rural policies, i.e. rural issues should be dealt with equitably in all policy and not as a stand alone issue
  • The development of a clear set of overarching rural indicators and targets against which performance will be measured
  • Policy development and implementation should be a bottom-up process with local level and contextual issues and priorities informing processes at intermediate and national levels
  • Budgets must be rural-proofed and clearly articulate how much money is allocated to policy priorities and interventions. This should not involve a separate rural budget, but rather, the integration of rural factors into all government budgets

These lessons are particularly relevant for the South African context where the historical neglect and deliberate marginalization of rural areas and populations (38% of the total population) has resulted remaining the most deprived segment of the population with the highest levels of unemployment, lowest levels of education and the worst health outcomes.

Despite the evidence that shows the continued service delivery and development neglect of rural areas and peoples, the government has failed to develop and implement policy that promotes equity and fosters the progressive realization of basic rights contained within the Constitution.  South Africa’s approach to rural policy has been uncoordinated, far too narrow and is ultimately wholly inadequate to deal the complexities of service delivery in rural settings. Historically rural issues have been tucked away in poorly developed rural policy strategies that have been the responsibilities of under-resourced government rural development department’s that have approached rural development almost exclusively from the position of agricultural development and land reform. Other service delivery departments such as education, health, social development and economic development have traditionally ignored rural issues in policy, treating them as ‘small urban’ areas.

For rural areas and communities to receive the kind of attention and services needed to promote both greater equity and the realization of basic rights, the governments approach to rural policy must change. We recommend that at a minimum it should include:

  • Making rural-proofing a legal requirement in all social and economic policy development processes
  • The establishment of a statutory body with representation from all social sector, economic and infrastructure departments that will coordinate and oversee the development of a comprehensive rural policy strategy
  • This rural strategy should be focused on the mainstreaming of rural into all policies and not the development of stand-alone rural policies within each sector
  • The government must develop a clear set of rural indicators and targets against which performance will be measured
  • The government should develop guidelines and toolkits that will be used by government departments to rural-proof all policy under development/revision
  • The development and implementation of policies should be a bottom up process with local government and rural districts taking responsibility for the development of priorities
  • Budgets should be developed that demonstrate what is being allocated to rural services and priorities. These budgets should promote equity and provide an additional indicator rural service delivery performance.