Innovative research shows that small towns are bigger than we think

URCA map of South Africa. Credit: @FAO

Innovative FAO research brings together urban and rural areas and shows ways to optimize policy and planning coordination for agriculture, services and agricultural product systems.

Less than one percent of the global population lives in truly remote inland areas, increasing the need to better understand how cities affect food systems and social and economic development. United Nations and the University of Twente.

Small towns and settlements and the rural areas they affect – designated as catchment areas – play an important role in people’s livelihoods. “Global mapping of urban and rural catchments reveals unequal access to services,” the report said. today National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). This is in low-income countries where almost two-thirds of the total population of small towns and their gathering areas live.

West African URCAs

URCA map of West Africa. Credit: @FAO

The study found that “it has strong policy implications, ranging from access to health care to the organization of urban food systems and the facilitation of a transition to more movement and less migration,” according to FAO Chief Economist Andrea Cattaneo, FAO Economist Theresa McMenomy and Dutch Professor Andy Nelson from the Faculty of Geo-Information Sciences and Earth Observation at the University of Twente.

Using extensive spatial data and calculating the time required for the rural population to reach nearby major stone city centers, they found that suburban areas are home to about 40 percent of the global population and are evenly distributed in small, medium, and surrounding areas. big cities. These results challenge the centrality of large cities in their development plans and plans. Suburban areas often go through the cracks of policies designed for urban residents and rural farmers, emphasizing the need for greater coordination between urban and rural administrations, and education, services, and employment opportunities to help people take advantage of their proximity to these cities and towns.

The surprisingly low figure shown at the beginning describes people living more than three hours – measured by the current transit regime of 20,000 people or more from urban settlements. At the national level, the number of people in the interior is more than 5 percent in Madagascar, Niger and Zimbabwe in just three countries with a population of more than 10 million.

“Villages and cities have long been considered separate. Development planning should focus on the rural population’s access to employment and services in nearby urban centers, and accept that urban centers do not have their own islands, ”Cattaneo said.

What is shown on the map

The study has previously defined planning paradigms by describing the relationship between urban centers and surrounding rural areas and “by a one-kilometer pixel-linked approach that facilitates comparisons between countries.”

The data set will be presented on the FAO’s Al-Ala Location Platform and will provide a global public benefit for planners everywhere and provide a “consistent, comprehensive and multidimensional representation of urban-rural sustainability.”

“Agricultural product chains connect villages and cities,” Nelson said. “Our data set supports both research and policy to change food systems to sustainably meet the growing demands of both markets.”

The findings underscore how simple the concept of higher-income countries being more urban is. For example, in low-income countries, more than half of the rural population lives in areas six times more densely populated than in high-income countries. This reflects, in part, the trend of low-density suburban housing in rich nations and the fact that better road infrastructure makes it easier to live longer than the local URCA center.

Even more tragically, evidence shows that while large cities now host more than 40 percent of the world’s urban population and 50 percent of Latin America and the Caribbean, smaller ones attract smaller people than their functional orbits.

The dominance of small towns and settlements and their collection areas in per capita income countries underscores the need for policies to improve off-farm employment opportunities, education and health services, as well as local food systems and appropriate land use strategies. and transport infrastructure investments.

The data presented may support a territorial perspective that takes into account the interactions between cities and surrounding rural areas, which have already been tested in high-income countries, leading to off-farm employment, a better integrated local agricultural system, and less migration.

Reference: January 11, 2021, Materials of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2011990118

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