21 Februari 2010

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Rural development and improvement of rural life

One of the main problems on recent rural development in Indonesia is the issue of poverty. As reported by Central Statistic Agency (2009) at least 20.6 million of rural dwellers are still living below the poverty line, which is Rp 179,835 per capita. The number represents 17.4 percent of the total rural population.
Even though in general the development problem especially poverty issue has been approached from the perspective of economic indicator such as monthly income, actually poverty includes a wider dimension of rural living aspects.
The end goal of rural development should be an improvement of quality of rural life. Improvement of economic, social, cultural and political aspects should be strongly considered equally in the process of rural development.

Economic development of rural people is closely related to facilitating the enhancement of rural productivity. The broader context of farming such as food production, small scale plantation, livestock raising, fishing and forestry will likely become the main face of Indonesian rural livelihood.
Availability and better access on required inputs and technologies will improve significantly on their productivity. The role of financial supports in enhancing rural productivity might be performed under several schemes such as cheap rural credit, rotating and saving associations, and commercial credits.
Accessibility to farming land, seeds, fertilizers, irrigation and technologies badly determines the level of farming productivity.
Governments must do as much as possible to facilitate those determinant factors.
Improvement of rural roads will be very important for products marketing and smoothing rural people mobility. Creation of rural market should be an appropriate idea to directly linking farming producers, local traders and even consumers. Introduction of new processing technologies on farming products is also considerably accounted.
It will not only create new job opportunities for rural people but also create added value of products, which in turn will increase local producers' profits.
Social development has been definitely fundamental for social life. Better access on education, health care and sanitation is among the main issues on social development. The central and local government should pay enough attention and support the improvement of those aspects.
Maintaining and preserving various embedded cultural aspects of rural life will also elevate the quality of social life among rural dwellers. The healthy social life may contribute to the smooth relationship among rural people when it comes to economic activities.
Recently, social scientists have had a keen interest in revitalizing social capital for rural development. The capital has been embedded in social and cultural aspects of the rural community.
Strong social capital shared among community members will guarantee strong solidarity, unity and mutual help not only for everyday problems but also when it comes to emergency cases such as coping with natural disasters.
Social capital that commonly has roots in daily community life also plays an important role in improving the economic structure of rural people. Long-term and repeated relationships have significantly reduced the transaction costs on various economic activities, a factor that eventually will benefit the whole rural community.
In terms of political aspect, development can be directed to give a broader chance to rural people to participate in decision-making processes. It is not fair if the decision on rural development is decided only by governmental staffs under top-down approach without the adequate participation of villagers.
Villagers as a whole and or through the representatives should be given much more chances to take part in policy making through participatory rural appraisal before deciding the development programs.
However, rural residents would find it impossible to continuously fulfill all aspects of daily life without contact with other communities. They should create and maintain contact with urban societies. In this way, networks will play a pivotal role. Murdoch (2000) argued that networks created by rural and urban sectors will give mutual benefits and opportunities in improvement of economic and social context.
Rural people can build a direct link with urban people and offering various farming products in the form of fresh and or processed products. Villagers also have chance to offer services such as agrotourism.
The direct selling of various agricultural products between producer cooperatives and consumer cooperatives has been popular in developed countries, such as Japan and EU. Better benefits will be received among involved parties due to cost efficiency and better quality and services.
Urban people may have benefits by getting reasonable prices and freshness for various products. Urban sector benefits can be gotten through the market creation of urban-industrial products and services to rural people.
Urban areas also may offer various part-time jobs for rural people. This condition will give bigger chance for rural people to get a double income from both rural and urban sectors, which would enhance the quality of the rural dwellers' lives.
In addressing many aspects of rural development, it might be necessary to consider an integrated system of rural extension. While so far, the extension program has been managed sector by sector, such as extension in food crop, forestry, fishery and family planning.
Extension program for rural community is unlikely well coordinated. Each sector has been doing its own target without considering the other sectors. In total, the cost of personnel and implementation should be very high.
In reality the target audience of various extension programs is the same rural households. They are in the same time as food cop growers, forestry planter, and livestock raiser and in some cases also fish pond farmers.
Extension independently arranged by each sector likely has disserviced villagers at least on time consumption and allocation. From the government agencies side, unorganized and un-integrated extension program also can be valuated as a budget improvident.

Subejo, The writer is a lecturer at the School of Agriculture, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, and is a PhD candidate at the University of Tokyo. Opini The Jakarta Post 22 Februari 2010