EDITORIAL: Small rural communities under attack

Whether by design or by accident, the clash between governments and small rural communities is a huge issue facing small rural communities.

This attack is rooted in a complex interplay of economic, social and political dynamics. While governments often aim to implement seemingly good policies for the greater good or national development, these measures sometimes inadvertently undermine the livelihoods and identities of rural communities. Some might call it unintended consequences.

Governments frequently initiate what may seem like well-intentioned policies or projects, such as infrastructure development, environmental regulations, or economic reforms. However, the execution of these initiatives can have detrimental effects on small rural communities. A great example might be environmental regulations that, while crucial for sustainability, may impose burdensome restrictions on traditional livelihoods like farming or logging. Economic reforms can favor large corporations over small businesses, leading to the decline of rural industries and communities.

One of the primary challenges in these scenarios is the lack of meaningful consultation or participation of rural communities in the decision-making process. Governments often overlook the perspectives and needs of these communities, assuming a top-down approach that disregards local knowledge and experiences. This approach breeds resentment and resistance among rural residents, who feel marginalized and ignored by distant authorities.

Furthermore, the imposition of government policies can exacerbate existing inequalities and vulnerabilities within rural communities. Small-scale farmers, for example, may struggle to comply with regulations designed for larger agricultural operations, further widening the gap between the rural poor and more affluent urban populations. Similarly, most smaller communities have limited access to education, healthcare, and other essential services, which can compound the negative impacts of government actions, leaving communities feeling abandoned and neglected.

The war on small rural communities is not solely waged through policy implementation but also through broader socio-economic trends. Globalization, for instance, has facilitated the concentration of wealth and resources in urban centers, leading to the neglect and underdevelopment of rural areas. As governments prioritize urban growth and investment, rural communities are left to fend for themselves, grappling with declining populations, inadequate infrastructure and limited economic opportunities.

Moreover, the rise of industrial agriculture and extractive industries has further marginalized rural communities, as large corporations exploit natural resources and exploit cheap labor without regard for local needs or environmental sustainability. This unchecked exploitation often leads to environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, and health hazards for rural residents, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement.

In response to these challenges, many small rural communities have banded together to defend their rights and livelihoods. Grassroots movements, community-based organizations and other groups have emerged as powerful advocates for local autonomy and sustainable development. Through protests, legal actions and grassroots initiatives, these communities assert their agency and demand a seat at the table in decision-making processes affecting their lives.

Smaller communities must insist that governments prioritize investments in rural infrastructure, healthcare, education and economic diversification to ensure that rural communities have the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. This includes support for small-scale agriculture, eco-tourism, renewable energy, and other sustainable industries that can generate income and create jobs while preserving local cultures and environments.

The war on small rural communities is real and it is destroying many small rural communities. Yes, it is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon driven by a combination of government policies, socio-economic trends, and power dynamics. But on the other hand, some speculate that it is a conscious attack to drive the rural community into the urban areas for greater control by government over the people?

Either way, we must acknowledge the attack, for whatever reason, in order to combat the attack. Rural communities must be resilient in adopting more aggressive, innovative and sustainable approaches to their development. In doing this, they can build stronger, more equitable societies that benefit all citizens, regardless of where they live.

John Newby is a nationally recognized columnist, speaker and publisher. He consults with chambers, communities, businesses and media. His "Building Main Street, not Wall Street" column appears in 60-plus newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be contacted at [email protected].