Reverse the urbanisation policies that empty Asia's countryside

22 March, 2013

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by Chandran Nair

Financial Times

Who opposes urbanisation? No one, it seems. In the past decade, as hundreds of millions of people have left the countryside, the cheerleaders for more and bigger cities have grown increasingly numerous and vocal.

But is urbanisation really an economic panacea for the 60m who become city-dwellers each year? And will it deliver the returns expected across Africa and Asia?

The evidence should give us pause. Take the recent pollution in Chinese cities, or the worse levels of Indian ones. Then there are the ever greater numbers living in urban squalor – for example, the 60m to be added to slums this decade on top of the 825m already living in such places. And, despite being home to just over half the world’s population, cities account for more than 70 per cent of its waste and greenhouse gases.

So why is urbanisation deemed crucial to global development? The answer is the entrenched belief that, as creators of prosperity, cities are the key to modernity.

Such thinking must be replaced with a more nuanced approach that recognises the countryside’s potential to create equitable, sustainable development. This is particularly true in Asia, where governments are happy to fund urban development but not to invest in rural areas. In China, for example, less than 10 per cent of government spending in the 1980s and 1990s was allocated to the rural economy, despite the fact it supported 75 per cent of its people.

This is not a call to reverse urbanisation. It is a call to strengthen rural development, to make the villages and townships that still house most Asians places that offer decently paid work and support a proper education, health and cultural infrastructure. It is about reversing policies that empty the countryside and discount its economic value.

Bold new policies should be built around three elements.

First, we must understand how cities are fed by industrialised agriculture, using massive inputs of chemical fertilisers and pesticides aided by large-scale mechanisation. By removing work opportunities, this displaces rural populations.

In light of the challenge of feeding 10bn people by mid-century, we need to look at measures that will add value to the rural economy. This will call for repricing inputs and ecosystem services such as watersheds and biodiversity to reflect their true environmental costs and benefits, which would in turn nudge modern farming towards being more labour intensive.

This is far from fanciful. Japan – where farmers are even now resisting attempts under talks to set up a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal to open the country up to imports – has a tradition of labour-intensive agriculture. It is highly subsidised but remains part of most landscapes, including many urban ones. More than 5m Japanese still secure their food direct from farmers.

One reason for Japan’s continued fondness for artisan farming is high prices for inputs, especially energy. As a result, the cost of labour remains competitive in both the traditional and modern sectors – and Japan retains a bias towards employing people rather than machines, despite being a leader in the construction of industrial robots.

Second, governments should direct greater investment to rural transport, irrigation, communication and storage infrastructure. This would allow farmers to reach markets where consumers can pay a premium for value-added foodstuffs and reduce Asia’s high levels of wastage.

Rural energy provision should be stepped up. In India, 400m people have no electricity in their homes. But whereas energy for urban households is subsidised, country-dwellers are left to fend for themselves. The same is true of water supply and sanitation services.

Third, governments should take a fresh look at property rights for the rural poor, granting farmers secure ownership to encourage them to invest in their land rather than leave it for poorly paid urban work.

Of course, such measures will not end the superficial attraction of cities to the displaced rural poor. However, by supporting the search for sustainable economies that guarantee a decent livelihood to all, they will show there are alternatives to abandoning centuries of links to the land for a precarious urban existence.


The writer is founder and chief executive of the Global Institute for Tomorrow and author of ‘Consumptionomics’

Source: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/28967fd6-9238-11e2-851f-00144feabdc0.html

 

Chinese Translation:

2013年03月25日

城镇化并非经济灵药

《消费经济学》作者 程子俊 为英国《金融时报》撰稿

谁反对城市化?看上去,似乎没有人反对。过去十年,随着数亿人离开乡下,倡导发展更多更大城市的人越来越多,他们发出的声音也越来越响亮。

但对每年变身为城市居民的6000万人而言,城市化真是一剂经济上的灵丹妙药吗?城市化能在亚非各国带来预期的回报吗?

在事实证据面前,我们应该停下来想一想。看看中国城市最近的污染情况、或是印度城市更加糟糕的环境。接下来还会有更多的人居住在城市的肮脏角落里 ——例如,目前全球城市的贫民窟中已有8.25亿人口,在这个十年内,这个数字还会再增加6000万。此外,尽管城市人口只占全球总人口的一半多一点,但 城市产生的垃圾和温室气体却占全球总量的70%以上。

那么,为什么还有人认为城市化对全球发展有着十分重要的作用?答案是,有些人坚定地认为:作为繁荣的创造者,城市是迈向现代化的关键。

我们必须摒弃这种思维,代之以更细致入微的思考方式,要认识到农村创造公平、可持续发展的潜力。这一点尤其适用于亚洲。目前,亚洲各国政府很乐于投 资发展城市,不愿意投资农村地区。例如,上世纪八、九十年代,中国政府支出中只有不到10%用于发展农村经济——尽管农村养活着中国75%的人口。

这并不是在呼吁逆转城市化进程,而是在呼吁加强农村发展,让仍是多数亚洲人居住家园的村镇能够提供薪酬体面的工作、以及支撑适当的教育、医疗和文化基础设施。为此,应该改变把农村变为“空巢”和不重视农村经济价值的政策。

大胆的新政策应围绕以下三点制定。

首先,我们必须明白工业化的农业是如何哺育城市发展的:工业化的农业使用大量化肥和杀虫剂,辅以大规模的机械化。这一过程挤掉了农业的就业机会,农村人只得离乡进城。

面对本世纪中叶要养活100亿人口的难题,我们必须想办法增加农村经济的价值。为此,要重新制定集水区、生物多样性等投入要素和生态系统服务的价格,以反映它们真正的环境成本和收益——这反过来将推动现代农业朝着更加劳动密集型的方向发展。

这并非不切实际的想象。日本拥有劳动密集型农业的传统(即便是现在,日本农民也在抵制向进口产品开放日本市场的企图——开放日本市场是跨太平洋伙伴 关系(TPP)贸易协定谈判对日方提出的要求)。日本农业享受高额补贴,农村地区风景秀丽、甚至与很多城市的风光融为一体。逾500万日本人仍直接从农民 手中获取食物。

日本一直钟爱精耕细作农业的一个原因是,投入要素价格很高,尤其是能源。结果,劳动力成本不管是在传统部门还是在现代部门都仍具竞争力。此外,尽管日本在建造工业机器人方面位居世界前列,但日本却一直偏爱使用人工,而不愿使用机器。

其次,政府应该引导更多投资流入农村交通、灌溉、通讯和贮藏基础设施。这将使得农民能够进入那些顾客愿为高附加值食品支付高价的市场,缓解亚洲浪费严重的现象。

农村能源供给应该加强。在印度,有4亿人在家中使不上电。城市家庭使用能源享受补贴,农村居民却只能自己想办法。供水和卫生服务方面也是如此。

第三,政府应该重新审视农村贫困人口的财产权,赋予农民可靠的所有权,鼓励他们投资于自己的土地、而不是离开土地到城市谋份薪酬微薄的工作。

当然,此类措施并不会使城市对流离失所的贫困农民丧失表面上的吸引力。不过,通过为摸索可持续经济发展道路提供支持、确保所有人都活得体面,这些措施将向我们展示出,除了放弃世世代代以来与土地的联系、到城里谋一份不稳定的生路之外,人们还有其他选择。

本文作者是Global Institute for Tomorrow创始人、首席执行官,著有《消费经济学》(Consumptionomics)一书

译者/倪卫国

原载: http://www.ftchinese.com/story/001049592