Rural Systems

In the context of Rural Systems, ORG operates within the territorial relationships between agri-industrial practices, rural communities and environmental sustainability as a key approach to developing sustainable, equitable and productive rural economies.

Pressures on rural communities and businesses are abundant; from changing climates to soil erosion, from natural resources to skilled trade scarcity, all requiring a well-rounded grasp of the practical realities on the ground as well as the policy and investment systems that represent diverse interests and goals.

Spatial strategies related to rural development are becoming increasingly central to addressing societal concerns in post-industrial economies of the developed world, and pre-industrial and emerging economies of the developing world. Massive pressures on social services, employment and livelihoods, combined with growing environmental sustainability risks, meet in what appears to be a global moment that calls for a comprehensive review of rural systems.

ORG facilitates processes of collective design with a wide spectrum of stakeholders and project partners to develop cross-sectoral strategies, applying spatial planning to guide the transition of economies and communities into more diverse and localized models while improving access and relationships with people down the value chains. These enable agenda shifts towards innovative patterns of land and resource uses that support efficient and equitable local production, resilient community settlement patterns, infrastructural connectivity, environmental sensitivity and economic productivity.

ORG works to establish long and medium-term development plans and to connect key government agendas on multiple scales, from the national and regional, watershed and district, down to a set of specific project sites, as catalytic investments which activate development processes on larger scales.

Agro-industrial secondary cities in Malawi

ORG's rural development projects focus on the design of agri-industrial value chains which necessitates a wide variety of spaces for growing, producing, processing, distributing, as well as consuming, produce at scale. This highlights the ways in which our towns and cities should accommodate for such spaces to be increasingly integrated with our economic systems for an improved quality of life. The intrinsic relationship between the performance of agro-industrial activities and the well-being of the communities and businesses that constitute the system itself necessitates a holistic view of the different players, resources and dynamics within rural systems.

Through our rural development work in recent years in a wide variety of contexts and locations, ORG has come to identify 4 key areas of intervention that hold substantial opportunities for innovation and impact:

- Small farm communities

- Off-grid infrastructures

- Regional economic clusters

- Watershed environmental design

Naturally, these areas of intervention differentiate greatly within any specific context and require an in-depth understanding of the context. ORG provides multiple services, including comprehensive master plans, renewable energy development, coalition building, land resource and watershed management plans, supply chain innovation, and co-op commercialization; all to address the complicated issues of today and get agrarian communities on track and poised for a dynamic future.

Projective render highlighting the development of Secondary Cities 2063


At ORG, we focus on five main types of infrastructure – water, sanitation, energy, transport, and communications. In some developing regions people meet their needs in a variety of ways – informal access to formal grids such as illegal energy hookups; ‘off-grid’ forms such as latrines or bore-wells; hybrid forms such as reliance on water trucks when urban supplies run dry; or local vehicles providing ‘last-mile’ connections to public transport. A particular concern in developing regions is whether such critical infrastructure is sufficiently robust and stable to weather the multitude of human/political and environmental shocks and stresses facing them, ranging from droughts and floods to political and financial crises which can literally ‘turn off the lights.’

ORG proposes an analytical framework to develop a systematic and in-depth understanding of these informal urbanisms, in order to develop their potential for transforming rural regions through “off-grid” strategies. These types of infrastructure transactions we further design to empower residents and create transformative urban practices.


As agricultural production is often the main source of employment and income in rural and impoverished areas. Agricultural cooperatives play an instrumental role in socio-economic development, food security, and poverty reduction. They provide smallholder farmers with access to natural and educational resources, tools, and otherwise inaccessible marketplaces. Producer organizations can also empower smallholders to become more resilient, building the capacity of farmers to prepare for and react to economic and environmental stressors and shocks in a way that limits vulnerability and promotes their sustainability.

Small farm communities can help small farmers benefit from economies of scale by lowering their costs of acquiring inputs or hiring services such as storage and transport. Agricultural cooperatives also enable farmers to improve product and service quality and reduce risks.

The benefits of small farms extend beyond the economic sphere. Whereas large, industrial-style farms impose a scorched-earth mentality on resource management (no trees, no wildlife, endless monocultures), small farmers can be very effective stewards of natural resources and the soil. Small farmers utilize a broad array of resources and have a vested interest in their sustainability. At the same time, their farming systems are diverse, incorporating and preserving significant functional biodiversity within the farm.

By preserving biodiversity, open space, and trees, and by reducing land degradation, small farms provide valuable ecosystem services to the larger society. If we are concerned about food production, small farms are more productive. If our concern is efficiency, they are more efficient. If our concern is poverty, land reform to create a small farm economy offers a clear solution. The small farm model is also the route to broad-based economic development. If the loss of biodiversity or the sustainability of agriculture concerns us, small farms offer a crucial part of the solution.


We find that rural areas have specific competitive advantages that can be important in guiding their economic development strategies. As the industry clusters cross administrative boundaries, cluster development strategies can have unique regional boundaries irrespective of state political jurisdictions. Connecting sectors corresponding to economic areas can promote cluster-based economic development opportunities and specialization.

Through our projects, we are highlighting the importance of regional economies and the need to decentralize economic development to the regional level.

Rural areas can play a vital role in contributing to various industry clusters in order to play a role in building strong, vibrant regional economies. At the same time, the economic performance of rural areas can be strengthened by connecting with regional industry clusters.

Economic development is highly related to spatial management. Space is a complex medium. Our research process enables us to offer detailed market and spatial analysis for a clear picture of the development, construction, and operation realities of your real-world implementations.

Malawi Agrarian Development Strategy - Project clustering strategy & development zone designation for Chipoka and TA Ndindi


Watershed environmental design, whose main aim is to secure water for rural communities, represents a promising opportunity for large-scale sustainability transitions. If properly designed, they promote activities in the watershed that enhance ecosystem services while protecting nature and biodiversity, as well as achieving other societal goals.

Healthy watersheds provide many ecosystem services including, but not limited to: nutrient cycling, carbon storage, erosion/sedimentation control, increased biodiversity, soil formation, wildlife movement corridors, water storage, water filtration, flood control, food, timber and recreation, as well as reduced vulnerability to invasive species, the effects of climate change and other natural disasters.

Holistic watershed design embraces the idea that all aspects of the watershed - human resources, economic development, environmental quality, infrastructure development and public safety must be considered in a holistic watershed design process.

ORG works to establish long and medium-term development plans and to connect key government agendas on multiple scales, from the national and regional, watershed and district, down to a set of specific project sites, as catalytic investments which activate development processes on larger scales.

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