Urbanization and poverty reduction: the role of rural diversification and secondary towns


  • 1The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed in this article are entirely those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the views of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/World Bank and its affiliated organizations, or those of the Executive Directors of the World Bank or the governments they represent.

Corresponding author. Tel.: 32-2-504-0998. E-mail address: lchristiaensen@worldbank.org (Luc Christiaensen).


A rather unique panel tracking more than 3,300 individuals from households in rural Kagera, Tanzania, during 1991/1994–2010 shows that about one out of two individuals/households who exited poverty did so by transitioning out of agriculture into the rural nonfarm economy or secondary towns. Only one out of seven exited poverty by migrating to the big cities, even though those moving to the city experienced on average faster consumption growth. Further analysis of a much larger cross-country panel of 51 developing countries cannot reject that rural diversification and secondary town development lead to more inclusive growth patterns than metropolitization. Indications are that this follows because more of the poor find their way to the rural nonfarm economy and secondary towns, than to distant cities. The development discourse would benefit from shifting beyond the rural–urban dichotomy and focusing more instead on how best to urbanize and develop its rural nonfarm economy and secondary towns.