Pilot tests of an international definition of rural and urban territories

In the summer 2018, Global Strategy to improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics (GSARS) and FAO in close collaboration with Joint Research Centre (JRC) and DG REGIO of European Commission (EC) tested the refined categorization of the urban-rural people based definition.

This work falls under the research line of GS “Improving Rural Statistics” that aims to develop an international definition of rural areas and indicators of rural of development.

The pilot tests were analytical desktop assessments carried out in Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Malaysia, Pakistan and the United States of America.

Objectives of the pilots: 1) Assessing the international definition in country-specific contexts; 2) Assessing countries’ opportunities, capacities and constraints to report a subset of core SDG indicators on livelihoods and well-being using the proposed definition.

Main results: All countries appreciated the concept of urban-rural continuum vs the traditional urban-rural dichotomy. Countries acknowledged the value of having a consistent definition for international reporting and comparisons and the value of a refined categorization across the urban-rural spectrum.

The pilots also highlighted the diverse degrees of congruence between the domestic classifications and the proposed categorization that include: national practices adopting legal prescribed entities, non-population based units, as basis for the national definition; the use of different cut-off values of population size and density to categorize urban and rural; the adoption of additional criteria (economic activities; remoteness) particularly in the rural component of the national categorizations.

The use of proposed international definition for reporting may currently have technical and financial constraints due to mismatches between the statistical reporting units and classes of definition. This is especially true for survey data with likely important financial implications to ensure appropriate coverage of all strata and classes.

Opportunities for adoption are offered by the increasing integration of georeferenced information in national statistical systems, particularly in the framework of the 2020 Census of Housing and Population. On the other hand, the 2020 Census of Housing and Population is also an opportunity to have updated and more refined Census data used as inputs to the people-based definition.

Giulia Conchedda, Geospatial and Agri-environmental Data Analyst – ESS
Arbab Asfandiyar Khan, Research Coordinator – GSARS