Long seen as a getaway from poverty, rural-urban migration is now casting a shadow on the prospects of eradicating poverty and hunger in the world, as explosive urbanisation robs the rural areas of the young labour force needed for transformation, according to a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The State Of Food and Agriculture 2017 report says that rural areas are significant to economic growth in developing countries and quicker and efficient transformations to help unlock their full potential will enable the rural areas employ 'younger, crowded planet'.
With the majority of the world's poor living in rural areas the report warns, the global goals of ending poverty and achieving zero hunger by 2030 will not be reached unless economic growth is made more inclusive.
"The overarching conclusion of this report is that fulfilling the 2030 Agenda depends crucially on progress in rural areas, which is where most of the poor and hungry live," said FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva.
According to the report, the millions of young people who are prepared to enter the labour force in the coming decades need not flee from rural areas to escape poverty, as they are "at the risk of becoming only marginally better off as they may outnumber available jobs in urban settings".
Between 2015 and 2030, their total population is expected to grow by 25 per cent, from 3.5 billion to almost 4.5 billion. Their urban populations will grow at double that pace, from 1.3 billion to two billion, the report notes.
In sub-Saharan Africa, FAO estimates that the number of people aged between 15 and 24 years will increase by more than 90 million by 2030, meaning many low-income countries will face the challenge of providing decent employment to millions of new entrants to their labour markets.
"In Africa, every year, 10 to 12 million youths join the labour force, but we have only been providing about three million jobs. "So it is not a surprise that they try to cross the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea looking for a better opportunity," the FAO chief added.
According to the report, the growing demand from urban food markets, projected to double to $500 billion by 2030 from $150 billion in 2010 in sub-Saharan Africa, will be the major force behind rural transformation.
But "no amount of urban demand alone will improve production and market conditions for small-scale farming," it warns.
The report calls for the adoption of an agro-territorial planning approach, which is designed to strengthen connections between small urban centres and their surrounding rural areas in order to drive rapid and more inclusive rural development.
"Since the 1990s, rural transformations helped millions of people exit poverty while remaining in rural areas. This fact holds great promise for reinvigorating rural opportunities, both on- and off-farm, including job creation."
With only 13 years to the 2030 deadline of eradicating universal hunger and a huge chunk of the world population -- 1.75 billion people -- surviving on less than $3.10 a day, the FAO is calling for concerted action to ensure those "left behind take their rightful place."
"There could be no clearer wake-up call than the FAO's new estimate that the number of chronically undernourished people in the world stands at 815 million. Most of the hungry live in low-income and lower-middle income countries, many of which have yet to make headway towards the structural transformation of their economies," Mr Graziano da Silva said.
According to the Africa Development Bank 40 per cent of Africans live in urban areas, up from 15 per cent in 1950. This number is expected to rise to 56 per cent by 2050.