What is Urban Upgrading?
Urban/Rural Linkages

Abstracted from David Saithwaithe presentation. Roundtable on Urban Upgrading, October 1-5, 2000. Johannesburg, South Africa.

See also: Urban-Rural Linkages and Interactions: Policy implications for development planning and poverty reduction.

Many poor households have livelihoods that draw on rural and urban resources or opportunities. Urban and rural areas are closely linked, each contributing to the other, which needs to be considered in development planning.

Agriculture has a strong impact on urban development.

Many fast growing cities are within areas with the most rapid increase in the value of agricultural production. For instance, the urban centres serving areas producing:

  • high value fruit or vegetables
  • coffee or tea
  • other high value crops such as silk cocoons

Factors relating to agriculture influencing the prosperity of most such urban centres:

  • the value per hectare of the crops
    (the higher the value, the more local urban development)
  • the potential for local value added
    (and the scale of forward and backward multiplier linkages)
  • the land owning structure
    (the perfect stimulus to local urban development is lots of prosperous relatively small farms growing high value crops)

Urban areas are very important to rural households.

Urban areas are not only as sources of demand for rural produce but also important for rural households as:

  • Funding flows for rural development as many migrants to urban areas help support development in the rural settlements from which they moved
  • Accommodation and access to jobs or schools for rural family/kin/fellow villagers
  • Refuges for some of the poorest rural dwellers
  • More diverse labour markets and employment opportunities for those in nearby rural areas
  • Access to many different branches of government (including access to justice) and many public services

And rural areas are very important for many urban households.

  • A proportion of the urban poor derive some/all of their livelihood from meeting rural demand
  • Many poor urban dwellers rely on seasonal employment in agriculture
  • Many poor urban dwellers move back to rural areas when times are particularly hard
  • Many urban dwellers have relations with rural dwellers to guarantee their food supply
  • Many urban dwellers retain key assets in rural areas - and rely on rural dwellers to protect their land, crops or livestock or to provide their children with homes (or even access to schools when urban schools are bad or expensive)

The important difference between rural and urban contexts is the level of income needed to avoid poverty is the key difference. In urban areas there is a very high proportion of income going toward non-food items such as rent, public transport, payment to water vendors and for pay-as-you use public toilets, keeping children at school, health care/medicines, and informal payments to stop homes being demolished or to be allowed to sell goods on the street.

Summary table of rural – urban differences



Livelihoods drawn from agriculture, livestock, forestry or fishing (i.e. key for livelihood is access to natural capital)

Livelihoods drawn from labour markets within non-agricultural production or making/selling goods or services

Access to land for housing and building materials not generally a problem

Access to land for housing very difficult; housing and land markets highly commercialised

More distant from government

More vulnerable to >bad= governance

Access to infrastructure and services limited (largely because of distance/low density?)

Access to infrastructure and services difficult because of high prices, illegal status and poor governance

Less opportunities for earning cash; more for self provisioning

Greater reliance on cash for access to food, water, sanitation, employment, garbage disposal.......

Greater reliance on house as an economic resource (asset, location for production, income-earner)

Urban characteristics in rural locations (e.g. prosperous tourist areas, mining areas, areas with high value crops and many local multiplier links )

Rural characteristics in urban locations (urban agriculture, >village= enclaves, access to land for housing through non-monetary traditional forms)


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