If you’ve been following the work of Community Forests International recently you may have noticed an increasingly ‘rural’ focus. We built a Rural Innovation Campus on the remote island of Pemba, Tanzania last year and we’re now striving to replicate that accomplishment back home in New Brunswick, Canada. This emphasis on rural institutions is unique, and it’s also somewhat contrary to the direction of the rest of the world right now. We’re not doing it to be contrary though, we just think that in an increasingly urbanized world something really special is being overlooked. In short, we believe in the rural.
Rural vs. urban is often seen as a zero sum game, especially in terms of economic development. I think we’d be better served by viewing these contrasting domains as two halves of a mutually beneficial whole. Urban markets have always relied on the supply of rural commodities and rural populations in turn rely on proximate urban centres for consumer goods and services. These linkages, when balanced locally, allow for growth in one sector to directly stimulate growth in the other. The local food movement is a perfect example. Growing urban demand for local produce is now making the small family farm viable again – and supporting the repopulation of rural agricultural land with a new generation of farmers. What other opportunities exist to strengthen the whole by strengthening connections between the urban and rural spheres?
Rural is the nature of the communities we come from and the ones we work with at CFI, and it’s our desire to provide some space expressly devoted to creating and sharing rural opportunity. We’re not saying rural communities are better than urban, we’re just saying they’re equally important. Despite the dominant trends of urbanization and centralization, the rural sphere is still home to roughly half the world’s population  (70% in Tanzania  and 48% in New Brunswick ). And if you consider everything else in the natural world aside from people – the land, the freshwater, the forests - by definition the rural will always hold a majority.
As we struggle to align our modern societies with the planet’s natural limits these facts raise some important questions. How will we build respect for nature’s balance when modern life is increasingly detached from it? Can strengthening the connection between urban and rural economies provide a bridge to repair that disconnect? What is the rural advantage? A deep connection to the land is one unique advantage, but surely there are others.
We’d love to here your thoughts on these issues. If you believe in the rural please share your vision of how we can make it stronger. Or if you're sceptical of the rural, tell us the problems so we can fix them!