Instead of Bringing Jobs to the People, Bring the People to the Jobs
By Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak
Economists and government officials generally think of poverty as a chronic, binary phenomenon: People are either poor or they are not. But reality is not so simple. Worldwide, 300 million people live nominally above the poverty line but regularly go hungry for some portion of the year. This seasonal deprivation is related to the agricultural crop cycle. The period between planting and harvest is a so-called lean season during which prices of staples rise and job opportunities become scarce for landless agricultural workers.
This period is predictable in timing and geography. Colloquially known as the “hunger season” in many parts of Africa, it is called njala in Malawi, musim paceklik in Indonesia, and monga in Bangladesh. And its impact is extremely widespread, given that 80 percent of the world’s poor still depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In some places, the only solution is to migrate temporarily in search of work in cities; in others, the rural poor need cash to buy food while breadwinners are away or seasonal loans to increase the productivity of their land.
Photo courtesy of Knut-Erik Helle.