Rural urban linkages

Rather than looking separately at urban and rural areas and what matters to each of them, it is vital to look at the linkages between them: it is from here that lasting change will come.

Urbanisation and rural-urban linkages
A programme of work on urbanisation and the links between rural and urban areas
Ejura Market in Ghana is an important centre for farmers selling their yam crops (Photo: IITA)

Ejura Market in Ghana is an important centre for farmers selling their yam crops (Photo: IITA)

The classification that divides people into either 'rural' or 'urban' is often used when policies are being developed but is in fact misleading and unhelpful. Links exist between rural and urban locations in the same way that links exist between people and their activities.

These links are not only key components of livelihoods and of local economies, they are also 'engines' that drive economic, social and cultural transformations. Rural-urban interactions include:

  • 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).

Rural-urban interactions can 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.

Our work seeks to:

  • Improve our understanding of how changing rural-urban interactions affect the livelihoods of low-income and vulnerable groups in both urban and rural settlements
  • Support the capacity of local institutions and governments to identify the opportunities and constraints for poverty reduction and regional development and to act on them
  • Help develop a dialogue between national and local governments to ensure a better integration between national macro-economic and sector-specific policies and local initiatives. Linkages at these levels support rural-urban linkages.

What is IIED doing?

Defining rural-urban linkages

This is explored in two special issues of the journal Environment & Urbanization:

Governance, migration and local economic growth in small urban centres

Small urban centres play an increasingly important role in rapidly urbanising nations. They can contribute to local economic growth and development. International migrants' remittances invested in construction and businesses outside the large cities attract internal migrants, and further contribute to processes of urbanisation.

Such rapid transformations often bring increases in inequalities and in environmental damages, so effective and accountable local governance systems are more necessary than ever.

Examples of this work can be found in a series of working papers on PakistanPhilippinesChina and Senegal.

This subject featured in a special issue of Environment and Urbanization: Migration and mobility (2010) (all articles and a six-page Brief free to download)

The role of urban centres in the development of their surrounding rural region, with special attention to agriculture

In many low- and middle-income nations, demand for food by urban households is more important than exports. This is especially true for small-scale family farmers in rural areas and the areas that surround urban settlements (peri-urban).

Urban centres and especially small towns can play an important role in linking rural food producers to urban consumers, but this requires supportive national policies and strategies. At the local level, it requires local governments that have financial and technical capacity and are accountable to their citizens.

This topic is explored in several working papers in our Human Settlements series and especially in two papers:

Migration, mobility and climate change

This is an area of concern for the policy and research communities, and one where we need more evidence. We know that environmental change is likely to become an increasingly important factor in the distribution and mobility of people, but it is not the only one and in many cases it is not the most significant.

Our work aims to gather detailed information on the duration, destination and composition of various migrant flows – this is how we will be able to make sure that policies are fair and are addressing the impacts of climate change in the most effective ways.

This topic is explored in an article in Environment and Urbanization and in working papers on case studies in Senegal and Bolivia. The summary paper 'Not only climate change: mobility, vulnerability and socio-economic transformations in environmentally fragile areas in Bolivia, Senegal and Tanzania' draws on these two case studies and on work in Tanzania.

Additional resources

Between 2012 and 2016 IIED was a partner in the Rurban Africa project led by the University of Copenhagen on the links between cities and rural areas in Ghana, Cameroon and Tanzania.

Rural-urban migration in China: policy options for economic growth, environmental sustainability and equity, Gordon McGranahan and Cecilia Tacoli (2006), IIED Working Paper

Toward synergistic rural-urban development: the experience of the Rural Urban Partnership Programme (RUPP) in Nepal, Md. Saiful Momen (2006), IIED Working Paper

Rural-urban change, boundary problems and environmental burdens, Gordon McGranahan, David Satterthwaite and Cecilia Tacoli (2004), IIED Working Paper

Changing Rural-Urban Interactions in Sub-Saharan Africa and their Impact on Livelihoods: A summary, Cecilia Tacoli (2002) IIED Working Paper

The Earthscan Reader in Rural-Urban Linkages, edited by Cecilia Tacoli (2006), Earthscan. This is a collection of key papers that illustrate the importance of rural-urban linkages for sustainable development