2003 TCMeetings Durban

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Rural Poverty Dynamics: Development Policy Implications Christopher B. Barrett And Festus Murithi     August 2003 USAID BASIS CRSP TC Meeting Pumula Beach Hotel, Umzumbe, South Africa BASIS Project on Rural Markets, Natural Capital and Dynamic Poverty Traps in East Africa


Rural poverty dynamics: What we know Claim: Poverty dynamics a more fundamental policy concern than static concerns about the location of a poverty line or instantaneous poverty measures. Why? Because some of the poor need assistance and some do not. And the sort of assistance needed varies by initial conditions. Picking the right policy to help a given subpopulation depends on accurate understanding of rural poverty dynamics.


Rural poverty dynamics: What we know The simple mathematics of income dynamics: Y = A`R + εT + εM (1) R = r + εR (2) dY = dA`R + A`dr + A`dεR + dεT + dεM (5) E[dY] = dA`r + A`dr (6) Equation (6) embodies the past half century’s core poverty reduction strategies.


Rural poverty dynamics: What we know Key distinction #1: Transitory and Chronic Poverty Transitory poverty undesirable, but is there a role for policy? The share of poverty that is transitory can easily be overstated


Rural poverty dynamics: What we know Key distinction #2: Safety Nets and Cargo Nets Safety nets prevent the non-poor and transitorily poor from falling into chronic poverty - truncate lower tails of εR and εT - Ex: crop/unemployment insurance, disaster aid Cargo nets lift or help the chronically poor climb out of poverty - shift A and r - Ex: land reform, school feeding, subsidized microfinance or agricultural input programs Safety nets block pathways into chronic poverty. Cargo nets help set people onto pathways out of chronic poverty.


Rural poverty dynamics: What we know Identifying and Explaining Chronic Poverty Different people need different types of policies. So we must be able to sort between the chronically and transitorily poor. Easy to do ex post but tough to do ex ante: structural correlates of chronic poverty help provide indicator/geographic monitoring/targeting variables - born into poverty and cannot accumulate assets - cannot effectively employ assets they own - physical, cultural, political geography - adverse shock(s)


Rural poverty dynamics: Basics from BASIS sites Ultra-Poverty Transition Matrices $0.50/day ($0.25/day) per capita income thresholds


Rural poverty dynamics: What we still need to learn Chronic poverty likely not just about (i) weak hh/comm-level endowments, (ii) exogenous changes in returns to assets, or (iii) shocks, but last category offers an important clue. Shocks can have persistent effects only in the presence of hysteresis that generates irreversibility or differential rates of recovery. Suggests nonlinearities associated with poverty traps.


Rural poverty dynamics: What we still need to learn Uncovering poverty traps and threshold effects The pivotal feature of poverty traps: wealth thresholds that people have a difficult time crossing from below. Threshold effects generate multiple dynamic equilibria with birfurcated path dynamics around the threshold. Suggests potential endogenously increasing r due to: Risk avoidance behavior Credit market imperfections and imperfect matching Locally IRS due to discrete occupations/technologies


Rural poverty dynamics: What we still need to learn Practical problem: the existence of endogenously increasing returns is less interesting, useful (and difficult) than identifying the relevant thresholds at which welfare dynamics bifurcate. Methodological challenge: tough to find using parametric methods and in small samples because looking for an unstable equilibrium, and cannot uncover using quantile-based growth differences. Figure 1: Nonparametric estimates of expected herd size transitions in southern Ethiopia (Lybbert et al. 2002)


Rural poverty dynamics: What we still need to learn Value of qualitative methods for uncovering thresholds Looking for thresholds in distributional data: find multiple equilibria manifest in “twin-peakedness” (Quah 1996) Figure 2: Bimodal income in western Kenya Figure 3: Bimodal cattle wealth in southern Ethiopia


Rural poverty dynamics: What we still need to learn Unimodal distributions may appear in geographic poverty traps, where there are few pathways out of poverty and few non-poor households (“less-favored lands”). Figure 4: Intertemporal shifts in unimodal income distributions


Rural poverty dynamics: What we still need to learn Explaining poverty traps There are multiple pathways out of poverty: worry less about a particular path than about the existence of some path out. Poverty traps exist when a household’s optimal strategy does not lead to accumulation of assets to grow out of poverty. Why might this be? Locally increasing returns based on discreteness - Importance of transition technologies/occupations Financial market failures - displacement of finance into other markets


Development Policy Implications Need to distinguish chronic from transitory poverty Important distinction between cargo nets and safety nets Targeting issues (who/what/where/when/how) become central: - geographic targeting for less-favored lands and in wake of natural/manmade disasters - indicator targeting related to variables defining critical thresholds - self-targeting: useful for safety nets when used as standing policies. Less good for chronic. - importance of triage in transfer programs.


Development Policy Implications In order to enable the chronically poor to being accumulating productive assets, one must know what factors currently most limit their choices. Here, the familiar range of micro-to-macro issues emerge. Simple, blanket prescriptions rarely work. Effective development policy depends on careful, empirical research customized to local conditions. The roots of effective development policy lie in uncovering the mechanisms underlying rural poverty dynamics.

Implications for BASIS Research: 

Implications for BASIS Research Look for nonlinear asset or income dynamics across sites and differences in threshold points (Examples from Madzuu, Vihiga District, Western Kenya) Examine dynamic relationship between assets or income and soil quality

Implications for BASIS Research: 

Implications for BASIS Research Looking for explanations at multiple scales: HH-level: finance and fixed/sunk costs; crucial role of education and the off-farm labor market Community-level: Coordination problems (Striga control, terracing, SRI water management, marketing) Crucial role for qualitative research (sequential mixing model) to complement quantitative work


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