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Applying the Pathways Model: The Macro Level

For countries undertaking agricultural transformation, the rural pathways model can be applied at the macro level as a powerful decision-making tool to help drive planning for inclusive rural development.
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For the first time, data available through nationally representative surveys have allowed us to create a sophisticated, dynamic, and segmented view of the rural economy.
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As rural areas develop and countries experience increased industrialization and urbanization, the impacts on rural economies can be dramatic. By 2050, the UN projects that 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas (compared to 54% in 2016). In fact, by 2050, there will be very few countries where the proportion of population living in rural areas will exceed that in urban areas.

The rural pathways model can be a powerful tool for considering the current shape of a given rural economy and informing tough decisions about where and how to invest in rural transformation. For the first time, data available through nationally representative surveys have allowed us to create a sophisticated, dynamic, and segmented view of the rural economy. The figure below shows the estimated number and profile of rural households in each of the sub-segments of the rural pathways model — representing an intricate baseline view of the shape of the rural economy.

Illustrative snapshot of rural household segments – Nigeria


Utilizing this new framework, service providers, funders, and policymakers can bring new clarity to potential rural transformation strategies. With the baseline pathways data presented above, and the emerging depth of data from more technology-enabled sources, economists and policymakers can start to project a series of rural transformation trajectories that reflect national priorities and extrinsic factors influencing the economy. These models will then show where different investments and services are needed to support inclusive transitions across different pathways.

For example, based on the illustrative and stylized scenarios for Nigeria below, we can see that there are a number of trajectories the country could take that would affect the shape of the rural economy. Using the “centers of gravity” as a simplified proxy for developments of different kinds, we can easily set up different scenarios, including:

  • A fast migration, slow agricultural development trajectory where urban economic growth fast outpaces rural development, leading to high urban migration and a lagging rural sector.
  • A rapidly evolving rural economy trajectory where urban growth and development is matched by developments in the rural economy to promote food security and encourage diversification of the rural economy in non-agricultural activities and services, leading to moderate urban migration and more vibrant periurban and rural ecosystems.
  • A rural agricultural growth-driven trajectory where rural growth is anchored by significant investments in key value chains and primary production, creating an anchor for commercial agriculture, rural services, and formal employment that limits the amount of urban migration.

Nigeria case study: potential rural transformation trajectories

If policymakers apply the rural pathways model to macro-level approaches to rural transformation, we believe they will uncover opportunities to:

  • Ensure rural development plans are inclusive of the most vulnerable. The first, most important step to ensuring rural transformation is an inclusive process is to understand the demographic makeup of rural households, including gender and age. A data-driven, pathways-based view of rural economies can provide new levels of clarity to rural development planning processes as they consider policy impacts on different segments of rural populations.
  • Prioritize the level of specific services needed to support pathway transitions. By understanding how many rural households will likely be looking to transition within different pathways, policymakers can identify service delivery gaps that must be addressed to support inclusive rural transformation.
  • Engage across government, private sector, and civil society to build a common vision and coordinate action. With a unified view of the shape of the rural economy and different development trajectories, these actors can engage in national conversations about a vision of inclusive rural transformation and how different efforts can complement and reinforce each other.
  • Define the types and levels of capital required to support the envisaged rural transformation. Ultimately, the process of rural transformation — regardless of the approach taken — requires coordinated investment by government, the private sector, and development partners. The rural pathways model allows a level of specificity about what services and supporting infrastructure are needed to support likely pathway transitions within the rural economy. If combined with the right data and scenario analyses, the rural pathways model can help define the types and levels of capital required to support different rural transformation trajectories.
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