By: Benjamin de la Pena ,Source: http://www.interaksyon.com
Prof. Randy David’s recent column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer discusses why the poor move to cities. It is spot-on in its analysis of urban migration. In a nutshell, they are drawn by opportunity. People come to cities to earn more, to get an education, and to better their lives. Cities, especially big cities, provide more opportunities per square kilometer than rural areas do.
Prof. David correctly points to the failure of our long history of “balik-probinsya” programs, which give the urban poor incentives to move back to the countryside. The poor, finding no opportunities in the provinces, eventually return to the cities.
He prescribes “a willful long-term program to develop the countryside” to address rural poverty. He calls for better land reform, more schools and hospitals in rural areas, and technical and financial support for rural enterprises.
I agree with him that we need to invest in agricultural productivity and in better rural schools and hospitals. On the other hand, I disagree that rural investment will, as he implies, reduce the migration to cities.
It is a common mistake to think that if the poor go to the cities for opportunity, then maybe we can prevent them from migrating to the cities by bringing opportunity to them. However, this doesn’t square with reality, as the experience of Japan and South Korea shows. Better farm support will create better farms; it will not stem the migration to cities.
Japan and South Korea had successful and well-funded rural investment programs and successful land reform programs. Their governments broke up land oligarchies, built great rural infrastructure, and provided excellent support to small farms. The farmers in these leading global economies are protected and productive; they earn a profit.
Cobbett says, “In the period since 1992 and the 15 or 20 years thereafter, we saw unprecedented reduction in (global) poverty, mainly driven by processes in East Asia. Almost all of that poverty reduction can be attributed to urbanisation and the consequences of urbanisation. That was, in many instances, rural people getting access to improved economic opportunities, but in urban areas.”
In 2008, the World Bank’s Commission on Growth said the same thing. It pointed out that urbanization was a proven strategy to achieve economic prosperity and to reduce poverty. I quote from The Growth Report: Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development:
“If history is any guide, large-scale migration to the cities is part and parcel of the transformation economies must go through if they are to grow quickly. No country has ever caught up with the advanced economies through farming alone. In countries that in the last 50 years sustained episodes of 7 percent growth or more over 25 years or longer, manufacturing and services led the way. In a few cases agriculture actually shrank.”
The report adds, “Although no country has industrialized without also urbanizing, in no country has this process been entirely smooth. Many fast-growing cities in the developing world are disï¬gured by squalor and bereft of public services. It is easy to conclude that urbanization is an unpleasant side effect of growth, best to be avoided. But this is a mistake. The proper response is not to resist urbanization, but to make it more orderly.”
Benjamin de la Peña is the Associate Director for Urban Development at the Rockefeller Foundation. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.