Posts Tagged ‘Urbanisation’

To get out of poverty, get out of agriculture?

October 19, 2010

Out of all the World Food Day blogs I’ve read, Owen Barder‘s was the most refreshing, thought-provoking, and as always, entertaining. But I do question his argument on two pretty fundamental points.

Expanding on Owen’s stats-speak

…it is not as persuasive as the alternative interpretation of the high correlation between poverty and agriculture: the fact that most poor people work in agriculture suggests that the best way to escape poverty is to get out of agriculture…

I suggest it important to consider the possible omitted variables involved here. Sure, most people who are poor sustain their livelihood through some form of agriculture, but it does not follow that agriculture is the cause of poverty.

One big, fat omitted variable is the glaringly obvious rural context. The distinction between agriculture and rural living is important here because it forces us to think about what it means to live in a rural location other than working in agriculture: restricted mobility due to rougher roads hampering transportation of goods, access to services, opportunities to meet and collaborate, less competition in local markets, limited communication and information availability leading to slow learning of new skills, easy exploitation by the better informed…

These are some the biggest challenges that poor, rural people face, not that they work in agriculture per se. When some of these difficulties that act as bottlenecks to rural development are addressed, then agriculture remains an arduous life, but one that might be occasionally remitting and rewarding.

Of course that’s not to say that heading to the towns and cities isn’t perhaps a quicker way of escaping the isolation of rural life and drudgery of agriculture. Here’s my second point though, we must not forget the reality that many poor people face when they reach urban areas: a higher paying, more secure manufacturing job is the dream that most town-bound migrants fail to find. Many end up in slums, working even more informally for little more that buys a lot less, and certainly living even greater unremitting and unrewarding hardship.