Poverty, as a manifestation of financial, social, and cultural underdevelopment, threatens the political stability, social cohesion, physical and mental health of nations resulting in higher mortality rates, especially among infants and mothers. This would consequently decrease mean lifetime and human efficiency, and lead to declining economic productivity. Per a report of the world bank, almost half of world population (6 billion in 2001) lived on less than two dollars a day and around 1.2 billion spend less than one dollar a day for their personal consumptions. About 63% of total world poverty is related to rural poverty, the percentage of which reaches 90% in some countries such as Bangladesh (Bank, 2007). Economic and social inequalities in the communities are considered as the most important social issues in economics. Today, most countries, especially developing ones, suffer from the severe inequality caused by the pattern of wealth and income distribution due to different reasons. Income inequality has always attracted the attention of humans and is significantly important for political and social actors over the world (Fotros and Shahbazi, 2015). After 2008, Iran entered a turbulent period which influenced the total performance of economics negatively. Annual growth rate of gross domestic production (GDP) in Iran, for the period of 2008–2014, was close to zero being lower than similar countries. information regarding the recent trends of socio-economic welfare among Iranians is scarce. Despite the inaccessibility of the public to formal estimations, the estimates related to poverty trends are available in academic studies. The estimates are based on the authors' assessment of poverty line or international poverty line as US dollar (Group, 2014). The statistic for the whole country indicates no difference between the rate of rural and urban poverty, while poverty was very higher in rural areas compared to the urban ones (3-folds on average). Although the gap gradually decreased slightly during 2009–2012, it raised again in 2014 (Group, 2014). Based on the World Bank report, Iran could have preserved the positive growth of per capita expenditure in the bottom 40% of population during 2009–2012 despite the negativity of mean economic growth. Most of the individuals placed in the bottom 40% live in rural areas and engage in agriculture and simple jobs (Group, 2014). Although poverty is a global problem, it is raised as the most important issue in the rural areas due to its more incidences in the areas (Kord and Abtin, 2013). Empowering or acquiring power is considered as a process through which villagers gain ability to form and organize themselves for enhancing their self-confidence, asking their right to choose freely and independently, and controlling the resources which help to cope with and eliminate their poverty ( Tyler and Wallace, 2006). According to Aziz et al. (2020), legal fields, information and communication technologies, social support, and family law can be considered as important ways for improving women's food security which could lead to their higher bargaining power in using resources. Moreover, Han et al. (2019) found that the policies to increase the security of land ownership can result in enhancing women empowerment and useful welfare effects in developing women's rights, family, and rural economics, as well as helping the bottleneck of gender opportunity gap in the families. Sell and Minot (2018) reported the significant relationship between age and education level with empowerment. Garikipati et al. (2017) pointed out that the rural women who utilized instant loans possess high bargaining power in making different decisions in the family. Samian et al. (2017) found the better social and cultural status of the villagers recorded in fishing cooperatives to the unrecorded ones compared to the users who joined the cooperatives before implementing the plan. Therefore, it can be argued that fishing cooperatives affect rural areas significantly. According to Akter et al. (2017), there are some trends contradicting the conventional narratives of gender inequality in agriculture in the fields of special empowerments. Ganle et al. (2015) mentioned that some women become empowered due to their accessibility to micro-facilities. Furthermore, those having lower control over using the facilities are less empowered, and some become unable over the time because of failing to repay the loan. Akpabio (2009) found a positive relationship between stakeholder encounter in the credit facilities of women's nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and an increase in their income. Heydari Sareban et al. (2018) mentioned as the most important factors for improving the sense of social justice based on the perspective of villagers under study. The existential nature of the production cooperatives existing in the rural areas under study has altered and resulted in strengthening non-participation and distrust among villagers (Daneshmehr and Hedayat, 2018). According to Imani Jajarmi and Lak (2018), weak interaction and exchange in the different spaces of action resulted in failing to generate convergent actions over the time and disturbing the trend of local community development although ethnic background is considered as the main factor in forming divergent actions. Heydari Sareban et al. (2018) reported the undesirability of agricultural sustainable development indexes. Accordingly, the existence of social capital in rural areas plays an important in rural development due to its creation by participation, trust, and local cohesion. Moradi et al. (2018) introduced an infrastructure factor as the first obstacle to develop agriculture based on the farmers' perspective. Hosseininia and Fallahi (2017) divided the effective factors on rural entrepreneurship development in Manoojan County into nine main categories. The results of Amini et al. (2017) indicated direct and indirect effects, socio-economic status (SES), housing situation, recreational activities, and facilities as the most effective positive factors on assessing rural communities regarding the quality of life. Further, credits affected the economic development of the rural areas under study (Javanshiri et al., 2017). Heydari Sareban et al. (2016) found a positive and significant relationship between social capital and women's empowerment. Mohajeri Amiri et al. (2016) addressed the positive impact of psychological and social factors on the empowerment of rural women household heads. According to Heydari Sareban and Roknoddin Eftekhari (2016), social (44%), economic (36%), and environmental factors (35%) have the maximum effect on empowering the farmers.
Considering the study of Ghanbari et al. (2016), the village under study encountered different weaknesses and threats such as the lack of tourism infrastructures and appropriate propaganda despite its strengths and opportunities. The mean economic capability of member farmers have been reported as 2.74 by Hadizadeh Bazaz and Bouzarjomehry (2016) which is slightly higher compared to non-member farmers (2.47).
The results of Qanbari and Ansari (2015) addressed the cooperation of rural women in economic activities, as well as individual and social factors as the most important factors influencing their empowerment. Based on the analyses conducted by Bosshagh et al. (2015), the second-order model of rural poverty is affected by the latent social, economic, and political factors. Yasouri and Javan (2015) emphasized the role of infrastructural and institutional obstacles, and environmental, economic, and social factors on the lack of economic diversity in the rural areas in the region with impact factors of 0.633, 0.449, 0.106, and 0.093, respectively. The analyses performed by Amini and Boroumand (2015) demonstrated a positive significant and motivating effect of social and economic variables on individuals' willingness and action to leave the village. Additionally, age and social capitals play a negative and deterrent role in escaping individuals from village. The social, economic, and environmental elements affect villagers' tendency to merge villages with the mean of 3.4–3.6 at 95% significance level (Anabestani and Sadeghi 2014). According to Mohammadi Yegane et al. (2014), asset, education level, and bank credits are considered as some of the most important factors influencing the spatial distribution of poverty in the region under study. Farahani and Hajihosseini (2013) reported the maximum effect on empowerment for infrastructural and individual fields. Taleb and Bakhshizadeh (2012) found that democracy was not implemented in the rural cooperatives of Iran practically and observed as an effective method for development. Participation possesses different levels and fails to imply villagers' co-operation in the designs prepared by others. In addition, optimal participation occurs when villagers can interfere in subjective, objective, decision-making, and executive levels. Factor analysis in the study of Bayat et al. (2011) indicated the severe vulnerability of rural-urban migrations and workforce outflow from village (0.910) to social diseases among cultural factors (Bayat et al., 2011). Achieving developmental objectives at a lower cost and positive outcomes in a long term is considered as one of the challenges facing rural development and villagers' empowerment. How can a cost-effective and optimal developmental design be implemented at the village level to attain progress and empower villagers in order to be self-sufficiency?
Another challenge for empowerment research arises from the fact that current individual and target groups empowerment level measurement approaches to assess the ability to empowerment outcomes relies more on one-dimensional propositions without considering their relationship to contextual characteristics of the audience. In such a situation, step-by-step instructions, absolute and one-sided statements can no longer guarantee the empowerment ability of individuals. Correspondingly, how can a farmer with performance improvement training courses yet incapable of acquiring chemical fertilizers and high-yield inputs, as the sole method of increasing yield and income, be considered capable. Nonetheless, the group could efficiently take advantage of the new inputs marketing their produce, with support of the government, becoming empowered farmers (accounting for the neutralization of desired results of training and use of new inputs by price fluctuations).
To empower the villagers, the development and provision of socio-economic infrastructure of the villages can play an important role. Therefore, it is very important to provide a suitable model for the empowerment of the villagers, which will lead to the improvement of their economic and social situation. In this context, we aimed to elucidate the main components of the rural empowerment model to achieve self-sufficiency.
Zanjan province with the area of 22,164km2 is located in the northwest of Iran. Based on the latest administrative divisions, the province includes 8 counties, 17 districts, 48 dehestans, and 21cities, which 346,283 individuals of its population lived in villages in 2016. The province possesses many abilities and talents in agriculture field. In fact, suitable climate, fertile soil, vast plains, adequate water resources, plant species diversity, abundant human force provide the basis to the province for improved food and agricultural crop production. However, the province has failed to utilize its potentials and suffers from poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, and low agricultural efficiency. Figure 1 displays the theoretical model of the study based on previously conducted studies.
Figure 1 is here.
Conceptual model of research
The ability of villagers as an intermediate dependent variable is affected by various indicators such as social trust, social participation, social solidarity, social interaction, market access, job security, access to facilities, financial conditions, financial relationship and risk-taking. In this study, we used the empowerment model of the World Bank as well as Alsop and Hinshen as the basic model to determine the extent of economic and social factors on the empowerment of villagers (adding several indicators to use related managers in rural areas). Effect size of various variables were assessed in this model (empowerment ability of villagers and self-sufficiency as dependant variables, economic and social indicators as independent variables).
The present study generally sought to design a capability model for villagers in Zanjan province in order to achieve self-sufficiency. In this regard, the following specific objectives were pursued.
- Explaining the main components of capability factors among villagers in Zanjan province
- Assessing the status of components related to capability factors among villagers in Zanjan province
- Specifying the main components of the self-sufficiency factors among villagers in Zanjan province
- Evaluating the status of the components related to self-sufficiency factors among villagers in Zanjan province
- Validating the capability model for villagers in Zanjan province