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5 potential solutions to improve livelihood opportunities in the countryside


June 20, 2023

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While the Philippines has been posting impressive growths in national GDP over the last several years, it’s a glaring fact that the rural regions are still often being left behind in terms of economic progress. With more than half of Filipinos choosing to live in city centers rather than the countryside, the urban-rural disparity remains a pressing concern that must be addressed to drive progress across all regions and across all socio-economic sectors.

Ultimately, improving livelihood opportunities for people living in historically marginalized and neglected rural areas is critical to the country’s ability to achieve sustainable growth and development. There are many ways to do this, including building the necessary infrastructure and providing much-needed avenues for education and business development. In this article, we’ll discuss some of these potential solutions and what public and private stakeholders can do to help.

Support for human capital development

Human capital is as much of an asset as the natural resources that rural communities possess. This is why it’s important to invest in education and training programs that can help produce more skilled workers and professionals in the countryside. 

These programs may include career preparation initiatives, training in valuable agri-fishery skills and capabilities, and vocational training in various crafts and trades, particularly those associated with in-demand jobs and with high earning potentials. In addition, rural communities can have business development programs that will support the creation of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Overall, these efforts can help promote economic growth and boost the competitiveness of Filipinos in traditionally underserved areas.

Establishment of industrial hubs

To support the development of human capital, it would be ideal for the public and private sectors to come together and bring lucrative job opportunities to the countryside. Such efforts can include large infrastructure projects like the development of economic estates, which will serve as a way to connect jobseekers and service providers with business locators who will be operating in these industrial and commercial zones. 

An example of this is Aboitiz InfraCapital’s (AIC) LIMA Estate in Batangas, which is a sprawling 800-hectare Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA)-registered economic zone. It is envisioned to be the next leading mixed-use economic center for CALABARZON, with BPOs, dormitories, hotels, schools, hospitals, and other institutions to support the local economy. Similar to the LIMA Estate is the Mactan Economic Zone 2 Estate—operated by AIC and the Mactan-Cebu International Airport  Authority—which is regarded as a pioneering industrial park in the Visayas region that supports 14,000 employees. These PEZA-registered economic estates are also beneficial for industrial development, as is the case with the West Cebu Estate (WCE) in Balamban, Cebu. This 540-hectare complex supports thousands of skilled workers in various medium-to-heavy industries, particularly shipbuilding. 

These economic estates play a big role in job creation, which prevents the displacement of workers dealing with employment shortages in regions outside of Metro Manila and regional capitals. Through industrial hubs like these, people from the countryside no longer have to move to urban centers to access opportunities to make a living.

Investments in agriculture and water infrastructure


Rural areas are strongly linked to agriculture, which is why agricultural growth should be a key focus in efforts to develop rural Philippines. The countryside has a high potential for job creation, especially if efforts are being made to open such opportunities to locals. For example, provincial governments as well as regional city and municipal governments can bolster efforts to promote the latest agro-industrial processing techniques and launch certification or capability-building programs for training farmers. These training opportunities can focus on matters like boosting crop yields, using healthier soils, and applying environmentally friendly growing and harvesting practices—for instance, weed and pest management without the use of highly toxic chemicals. Such efforts can be combined with initiatives such as sustainable resource and waste management, as well as the development and sourcing of state-of-the-art rural infrastructure.

Another aspect that’s largely intertwined with agriculture is access to water services. This, after all, is necessary to sustain agricultural production systems, with cultivation practices largely relying on infrastructure such as irrigation systems. Overall, efforts to ensure proper water distribution and treatment are instrumental in boosting agricultural sustainability along with the quality of life in rural areas. Through these agricultural initiatives, rural communities can better adapt to market demands and potentially withstand challenges such as food shortages, calamities, and climate change.

Promotion of the forest economy

The Philippines has over 13.2 million hectares of natural forest, which presents a mine of opportunities for income generation. With this, efforts can be made to maximize forested areas and sustain rural economies. It would help to revisit plans to utilize natural forests for commercial purposes, which may involve strategies for land distribution that would benefit smallholder farmers.

That said, it should be noted that sustainability should also be a priority in developing the country’s forest economy. The Philippines lost over 37.7 thousand hectares of forest in 2021, which is alarming due to its implications on sustainability and rural opportunity. To keep the forest economy sustainable, it would help to invest in efforts to train farmers in managing forest resources such as timber, palm products, and wild fruits. All in all, sustainable approaches to cultivating forest land play a big role in ensuring the long-term development of rural regions.

Improvements in lending and distribution networks

One of the biggest challenges that rural communities face is the lack of access to capital. Having little to no options for credit can leave farmers and provincial entrepreneurs unable to maximize their natural resources, which also affects the value chain that links them to the broader economy. To address this, it might help to launch more programs focused on credit and microfinance—in particular, programs with reasonable terms for those seeking to expand or launch their businesses.

Additionally, it would be beneficial to ramp up efforts to improve the distribution of products from rural communities. One way to do this is by building better road infrastructure and streamlining access to markets and distribution centers, including those catering to inter-regional and international customers. This, along with ample access to capital aid, can encourage Filipinos in the countryside to participate in economic activities and generate a sustainable income.

A multifaceted approach is needed for rural empowerment

Developing rural competitiveness is a complex task that entails a multifaceted effort from intersectional stakeholders. As such, there needs to be a strong dialogue and harmonious collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as the communities that they aim to serve. More comprehensive solutions could be developed through these collaborations, and hopefully, these can empower rural Filipinos to sustain livelihoods and work toward progress and socioeconomic development.

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