Rural areas are necessary for urban areas to function. They are the source of a country’s vital food, water, wood and raw materials. Developing the villages not only improves the livelihoods of communities and eventually reduces and eliminates rural poverty, but also will stimulate the overall economic expansion of the nation in the longer term.
A recent publication of FES Indonesia, titled Asian Villages Comparative Studies: Challenges and Opportunities in Pandemic Era, brings together different stories from the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, India, Vietnam, China and highlights the good practices for village development. In particular, it underlines how innovation and sustainability have proven key to survival during the pandemic.
The aim of the report, in the words of its editor Daniel Hermawan, is to “provide comprehensive insight into the resilience of the villages in Asia through the local wisdom and each village’s uniqueness.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted daily life and raised obstacles everywhere, including in the village areas. Although in most villages based on agricultural economy, job losses have been lower than in cities, the impacts have still been evident, and villages have been driven to find solutions. There have been some good practices in the villages throughout Asia in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic based on their local advantages and potential, both in terms of leadership, natural potential, human resources, and other contributing aspects.
A story from a village in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, shows that the combination of good governance, effective leadership and communality culture carried the village through the pandemic. The Panggungharjo Village organized centralized quarantine facilities with a focus on fulfilling the needs of the villagers, including locals who returned home from the city due to the lack of job during the pandemic.
In Duggirala Padu Village, Andhra Pradesh, India, the government has been relying on the village administrative infrastructure system of secretariat and volunteer to implement village policies and the financial benefit scheme. The so-called governance at doorsteps consists of a network of volunteers and the village secretariat system tasked to track, monitor, and aid victims of COVID-19. It also ensured that essential goods and services were delivered to those in-home isolation or in need of assistance.
Advances in digital technology also play an important role in elevating the local potential of a village into an advantage that can support the economic sector. This potential of technology became more significant during the pandemic. Smartphones and social networking apps provided a way for the villages to communicate during the pandemic, especially when offline interactions were restricted.
Hong Ha, a landlocked village in northern Vietnam with population made up of ethnic minority groups, relies heavily on forestry products and the extraction of natural resources. Before the pandemic the Vietnamese government implemented the Smart Village programme to build up the village digital administration and facilitate the village digital economy, including e-commerce, e-tourism, and e-branding at the village level. This programme has helped the villagers to access digital health care, online education, and digital public services during the social distancing measures of the pandemic.
The Japanese village of Inakadate in Aomori Prefecture is known for its long history of rice farming in the region but unfortunately it is also experiencing the ageing and overall decline of its population. To revitalize the village the local government launched the Inakadate Village Rice Paddy Field Art: an annual contest to create pictures or pictograms by planting rice plants of different colours. This project took the momentum of the pandemic to optimize the Rice Paddy Art festival through digital channels, and continued to sell the local produce through e-commerce.
In China, the phenomenon of Taobao village, a cluster of e-commerce businesses operating in a rural area, is considered an effective means for inclusive rural development and as a useful tool targeting poverty alleviation. Wuyi County in Zhejiang Province used to be a poverty-stricken rural county. Through e-commerce the area has developed and is now known for its wide range of local delicacies, and for being home to six Taobao villages. It also has created an entrepreneurial incubation facility for returning villagers.
With the understanding that each village has different potentials and resources, the good practices are expected to inspire and maximize local advantages and innovations that villages have during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue to bring prosperity to the residents. Villages can certainly play an active role, especially on a micro scale to empower communities to face crises provided they receive competent support at the regional and national level. This can all also help catalyse village development more widely, during the recovery from the pandemic and beyond.
“Villages will be the driving factors behind the resilience and adaptability of each country in facing global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic. I am optimistic that the village community can be the local hero, a lead actor in bringing the villages forward based on their own local strength.” (Daniel Hermawan, Parahyangan Catholic University – Editor of the publication)
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