Rural development is an indivisible and continuous process starting with agricultural development. But to be successful, it must simultaneously go beyond agricultural development and reach the overall socio-political and economic system of a country.
Rural development means rural transformation or change not only of methods of production but of the economic institutions of human relationships and opportunities. It is a strategy designed to improve the economic and social life of a specific group of people – the rural poor.
The rural sector on which depends the economy, solidarity and security of the country presents a dismal picture of poverty, ill health, an alarmingly low rate of literacy, malnutrition, high population growth, poor social and physical infrastructure, low production and productivity, unemployment, immigration trends to cities, absence of people’s institutions and massive exploitation and abuse of power by feudal lords and petty government officials.
Any appreciation of the problems confronting Pakistan would lose touch with reality if it is not related to the most basic and widely prevailing problem of poverty. All other problems are subsidiary off-shoots of this condition of life which qualifies everything from the core to the surface.
Since rural development is intended to alleviate poverty, it must be clearly designed to increase production and raise productivity – essentially including a self-supporting agriculture which can provide surpluses for financing social overhead facilities and services such as health and education on a continuing basis. All aspects of life are inter-related and no lasting results can be achieved if the individual aspects of it are dealt with in isolation.
Thus, a holistic rural development would view social and economic development as a single, unifying process involving consideration of both social and economic aspects, aimed at the achievement of overall integrated rural development objectives. The concept of the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) is explained as follows:
‘To select a production area comprising 50 to 60 villages with a view to improving the socio-economic status of the target group through intensive rural development programme. The initial thrust shall be to increase agricultural production and productivity by intensification, diversification and commercialization of agriculture based on sound physical, organizational and institutional infrastructure.
This will require upgrading of skills through appropriate technology, provision of supervised credit, inputs, machinery, tools, storage, marketing, health, education, etc as a package deal from a focal point (growth centre called MARKAZ ) closer to the farmers’ threshold.’
The IRDP approach was first tested through a pilot project viz the Shadab Pilot Project which was launched in 1968 based on the concept mentioned above. After two years, 1968-70 a team of scientists evaluated the programme in 1971 and confirmed a positive 20 percent increase in production and productivity. After this, the government of Pakistan approved the IRDP concept in principle and carried out a series of discussions nationally and internationally at various levels starting with a seven-day seminar held in Lahore with 100 prominent experts from all over the world under the UNDP, FAO and government of Pakistan.
The IRDP concept was discussed in detail and acclaimed as the most practical approach to increase production and productivity. In his final verdict, the leader of the group, a senior FAO consultant, summed up by saying: “The Pakistani concept of IRDP is not only suitable for Pakistan but also for the rural development of [the] Third World countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia.”
More than 40 leading experts on rural development were invited from all continents by the FAO. The aim of the meeting was to develop a conceptual framework and to formulate objective strategies for rural development in member countries of the world.
Pakistan was singularly honoured at this meeting by unanimously being elected as the chairman of the World Group. The distinction accorded to the Pakistani delegate was in recognition of Pakistan’s pioneering role in the field of Integrated Rural Development. In fact it was subsequently recommended that Pakistan should remain the permanent chair of this Group of Experts which would meet from time to time in different countries of the world.
The meeting in Rome concluded that: ‘Pakistan’s concept of IRDP has now come to be internationally recognized as a scientific and pragmatic approach to solve the burning issues facing the developing countries in Asia and Far East. And in view of the headway achieved by Pakistan at these international meetings, it would be most beneficial and prestigious for Pakistan to follow up the lead it has already taken.’
The government of Pakistan launched the IRDP in July, 1972 with full force and political commitment in all provinces and the then prime minister proclaimed it to be the nation’s last hope to revolutionize its rural sector.
It is a tragic reality in Pakistan that, with the change of government, even successful programmes are rolled back without proper evaluation, due to politically motivated reasons.
The IRDP which was acclaimed nationally and internationally as a revolutionary approach to transform the rural sector, and termed suitable for all developing countries after a series of international consultations, was discontinued with the change of regime and without any evaluation.
We can only hope and pray that the present federal and provincial governments will realize the significance of the IRDP, not only to support small farmers but also to give a boost to the national economy, and adopt this dynamic approach to revolutionize the rural sector in the national interest of Pakistan.
The writer is the founder president of the Rural Development Foundation of Pakistan.