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Land, farming, livelihoods, and poverty: rethinking the links in the rural South

Livelihoods in the rural South are becoming increasingly separated from farming and land. Non-farm opportunities have expanded and increased the levels of mobility leading to the delocalisation of livelihoods. This requires a reconsideration of some old questions regarding how best to achieve pro-poor development in the Rural South. The purpose of this paper is to identify the features of change that will become more pronounced over time.

From studies in Bangladesh and China, the paper observes the following structural changes pertaining to livelihoods:

  • occupations and livelihoods in the countryside are diversifying
  • occupational multiplicity is becoming more common and more pronounced
  • the balance of household income is shifting from farm to non-farm
  • livelihoods and poverty are becoming de-linked from land
  • lives are becoming more mobile and livelihoods correspondingly delocalised
  • remittances are playing a growing role in rural household incomes
  • the average age of farmers is rising
  • cultural and social changes are responsible for livelihood modifications.

The paper then focuses in on the following propelling forces that are applicable across the whole rural South:

  • the erosion of the profitability and returns to small holder agricultural production
  • the emergence of new opportunities in the non-farm sector
  • environmental degradation
  • increasing land shortages
  • cultural and social change.

The author concludes with the following suggestions.

  • The best means of promoting pro-poor growth in the countryside is to give poor people skills so that they can leave farming.
  • Investing in farming and agriculture may preferentially support the non-poor and thereby widen inequalities in the countryside.
  • Instead of redistribution of land, land owners should give up their land since farming is losing its attractiveness, and take up the upcoming alternative occupations.
  • Governments should think of farmers not as peasants, but as agrarian entrepreneurs.
  • Efforts should be made to ensure the households that remain on the land leave subsistence farming for commercial farming.