INESAD News: “Challenging Accepted Wisdoms: Rural-Urban Linkages in Under-Nutrition”

Action Against Hunger UK (ACF UK) recently commissioned INESAD‘s Ioulia Fenton to help write the Guatemala part of a global report on the role of rural-urban linkages in under-nutrition. What this type of research originates from is the growing recognition that people’s lives in developing countries can no longer be neatly compartmentalised into either rural or urban. Someone who lives in a village and has land will also have to get a job in the city selling trinkets to make ends meet. Meanwhile, those who live in the cities will hang on to family land, work on other people’s farms or perhaps grow food in their city dwelling, something called urban agriculture.

Even the urban spaces we live in are also increasingly ambiguous and frequently an urban city can have a very rural face. In fact, depending on whose national standards you use, each country’s urbanity or rurality can look very very different.

Finally, development theory has always looked at whether development means the growth of cities at the expense of rural areas, vice versa, or increasingly, whether it relies on an intricate interactions between the two.

Because of these growing ambiguities, researchers are asking what impact these new relationships have on development and more specifically on food security and malnutrition.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) defines rural-urban linkages/interactions as:

“linkages across space (such as flows of people, goods, money, information and wastes) and linkages between sectors (for example, between agriculture and services and manufacturing). In broad terms, they also include ‘rural’ activities taking place in urban centres (such as urban agriculture) and activities often classified as ‘urban’ (such as manufacturing and services) taking place in rural settlements.”

Proponents of the rural-urban linkage approach to development (such as IIED) argue that strengthening all these different rural-urban interactions will lead to positive development and nutritional outcomes.

This is the assumption that the ACF UK report tackles head on. Through on the ground research in Zimbabwe, Guinea and Guatemala, it challenges whether or not rural-urban linkages in fact strengthen people’s ability to carve out a livelihood and meet their food needs. Or if, in fact, livelihood diversification into both rural and urban sectors is more of a survival strategy since lack of land, poor weather and dwindling resources are the factors pushing people further into poverty. Thus, forcing them to spread their lives further across the rural-urban spectrum just to make ends meet, without automatic benefits to their nutrition, health and quality of living.

You can now read the ACF Summary and the ACF Guatemala Case Study of the report for free. The full report is available at

What role do you think rural-urban linkages play in development? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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