Addressing Rural Crisis in Developing Countries Lessons from the New Rural Reconstruction Programme in China
South-South Dispatch 02
The rural sector has usually been neglected, both in China and globally. Despite this neglect, it is due to a long history of irrigated agriculture and the attendant ‘village rationality’ that China avoided becoming a land of perpetual hunger. Recognizing the importance of the rural sector, there have been several phases of rural reconstruction in China.
Following the 1949 revolution, all arable land in villages was distributed in the form of use rights to all households. This process helped to create a system that could absorb the cost of external risks through mechanisms within the village. But China’s attempts to industrialize rapidly under Mao had a devastating effect on the rural sector.
Decollectivization took place in the late 70s under Deng Xiaoping, but this move actually ended up disempowering peasants, as structural issues were not addressed.
Global economic pressures in the 1990s took their toll on the rural sector, leading to problems of over-production and forcing peasants to migrate to cities. Land grabbing by the Chinese state exacerbated the problem.
The fundamental problem of rural development in China is not one simply of agriculture but consists of three agrarian issues: namely, the san-nong issues, including peasants’ rights, rural sustainability, and agriculture and its protection against
the major institutional contradiction of rural-urban dualism. The problem of rural development is a historical one in which the rural sector has been the primary source for the primitive accumulation of capital for industrialization. From this particular understanding comes the rural reconstruction movement. The movement has a focus on peasants, as they can be associated with the largest social growth. Then comes the need to focus on rural sustainability, and the third aspect is agricultural security.
China needs to develop its own unique model to find the ideal between urban and rural society and economy. The New Rural Reconstruction (NRR) programme is a five-pronged system: peasant organizations, student movements, migrant labour centres, organized sections of the middle class concentrating on food security, and love for the village. In the ten years from 2003, the NRR movement has helped advance ecological civilization as a people’s endeavour to promote village cooperatives,
organic farming, and eco-architecture. The effort also encourages migrant labourers’ organizational renewal by strengthening their basic rights in the coastal regions. In addition, it promotes fair trade and consumer participation in urban areas, drawing on the integrated efforts of rural villagers and urban citizens, including women and the aged, as well as inputs from intellectuals and urban youth.
Initiatives such as the NRR signify an alternative mode of thinking, arising from a Southern context. The NRR represents an effort to resist global capitalist forces driven by the United States. The privileging of indigenous cultures, agriculture and rural areas through the NRR has significant implications for the South project and for India. Experience from similar initiatives from the Global South need to be shared among governments, social movements and people.
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