EL ESPECTADOR

Back To The Countryside: How COVID-19 Is Fueling A Rural Boom

A rural kind of U-turn.
A rural kind of U-turn.
Carl-Johan Karlsson

For a long time, urbanization has been one of the defining features of our societies — a tendency that has accelerated with the growth of the information economy, with now half the world's population living in cities.

But some believe that we may have reached a peak, as COVID-19 has not only paused the trend but might come to reverse it. The long months of quarantine turned the perks of solitude and access to greenery into a physical and mental health priority: Some 400,000 New Yorkers left the city during the pandemic, according to Deutsche Welle figures, and many Paris and London residents have done the same.

Other examples of coronavirus-induced innovation, like the rise of remote working or technological advances in automated services, are also fueling changes in the urban-rural dynamics:

DIY Supermarkets: A boom in unmanned stores is at play in Sweden, with one of the largest grocery store franchises launching 300 staff-free supermarkets in the coming three years, reports trade publicationHandelsnytt.

  • The 24/7 stores share some features with Amazon Go, the chain of convenience stores launched by the tech giant — like checkout-free automated payment systems.

  • A monitor by the entrance instructs the customer: create a profile, unlock the door, shop. Multiple camera-surveilled stores will be managed by a single employee who refills the shelves and solves technical issues.

  • While this has raised concerns about job losses, the facilities will be built in rural areas where the cost of staff has so far rendered supermarkets financially unviable. Now, these new establishments will grow the rural economy by benefiting other industries including logistics, construction and maintenance.

A worker nurtures young coffee plants in Colombia. — Photo: Eric Reed/ZUMA Wire

Agri Boom: Some see the revitalization of the rural economy in Colombia not only as an effect of the crisis but also as an exit strategy.

  • A recent op-ed in El Espectador argues that boosting the agricultural sector could make up for some of the 730,000 job losses caused by the pandemic.

  • The idea is to use government resources, including four million hectares of state-owned land, to promote ruralization. The government could use "state of emergency" powers to invest in canals, dams and irrigation systems, repair and extend infrastructure to connect the countryside and urban centers, as well as improve access to credit and create an agrarian risk insurance.

  • If successful, it could convince the 200,000 families who live in poverty after migrating to cities to return to the countryside.

Greener Tourism: While the World Tourism Organization estimates that international tourism will plummet by 60% to 80% this year, the Vatican recently issued a call to instead support "sustainable tourism," Vatican News reports.

  • The statement encouraged tourists to turn from cities to rural areas, small villages or streets and places that are hidden or get overlooked.
  • In particular, the Vatican encouraged rural development through agrotourism, which helps support local family farms while visitors can escape the stress of urban living and find a new connection to nature.

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Geopolitics

A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo

-Analysis-

TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.


After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

commons.wikimedia.org

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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