Santayana’s famous line “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”, makes more sense each year as we see programs and investments repeat common errors of past decades. With the support of a thoughtful client that operates food processing plants around the globe (McCain Foods) we began a brief distillation of the history and best practices of rural development and share the further evolution of that work here.

Why is sustainable development so important for rural areas? The reason is simple: two-thirds of the world’s poorest people and over 3.4 billion people live in rural areas where extreme poverty is particularly pernicious and where most food is grown.

When companies and development practitioners want intelligent rural investments or operations with sustainable practices, it is critical to understand the influential factors as well as historic lessons from decades of development literature.

This simple review is very accessible for a non-expert and charts the path from rural development as a purely economic matter to the multidimensionality of today’s Sustainable Development Goals through a fifty-year retrospective of key moments in development history. From COSA researchers Elena Serfilippi, Carlos de los Rios and Keith Child.