Each day’s headlines, or so it seems, bring reminders of the challenges of urban poverty in the Baton Rouge area, as the problems of crime and poor educational attainment throw light on the struggles of the inner city.
But the dilemmas of urban poverty and rural poverty are inextricably linked, Leodrey Williams told a recent meeting of Advocate reporters and editors.
As chancellor of the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Williams has special insights into the obstacles faced in developing Louisiana’s rural economy. The Southern Ag Center, like its larger counterpart at LSU, uses a network of extension agents to share the results of agricultural research with residents in outlying communities. The Southern Ag Center serves residents in 34 parishes, emphasizing service to those who are trying to lift themselves out of poverty.
“Many of the problems of urban areas are because we haven’t dealt with issues in rural areas,” Williams said.
Often, poor rural residents have migrated to cities seeking better lives, typically confronting similar obstacles to progress once they relocate.
A better policy option, Williams suggested, is nurturing economic and social progress in rural areas so that fewer residents feel compelled to leave.
The Southern Ag Center advises clients on small-scale farming techniques that require less land and capital to manage — a big plus for farmers with limited resources. Within more populated areas, Southern Ag Center agents have taught plant science and gardening to inner-city youth, nurturing natural beauty and useful skills in stressed neighborhoods.
Louisiana, a state with chronically high poverty, needs all the help it can get in advancing prosperity among both rural and urban residents. We commend the Southern Ag Center for its work in that critical mission.