Why thinking beyond money is vital for solving the poverty puzzle

Why thinking beyond money is vital for solving the poverty puzzle
According to the OECD, development aid recently reached a new peak of $US142.6 billion a year.

But international assistance that aims to alleviate can have undesirable, and often unintended consequences on both nature and culture. And how to alleviate poverty without degrading the environment and cultural values remains a significant global challenge.

Trapped in our thinking

In a new review paper in the journal Science Advances, we call into question a cornerstone of aid: the "poverty trap" and its "big push" solution.

The poverty trap is a concept widely used to describe situations in which poverty persists under a certain asset threshold through self-maintaining mechanisms. In other words, it's the vicious cycle of poverty, where the poor get poorer because they cannot accumulate savings or have enough energy to work.

The term, which was used by both Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Collier in 2005 to describe households or countries stuck in low-levels of economic well-being, was central to the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

The "big push" – one of the earliest theories of development economics – is a still-popular one-size-fits-all approach to alleviating poverty at community and household levels, despite its known limitations. The basic idea of this theory is that it takes a big coordinated push of investment to allow economies to take off beyond a critical point (as defined by the poverty trap).

The two concepts, as you can see, go hand in hand.

But there's an issue: though the poverty trap is a prominent way to conceptualise , its strictly economic view of poverty has thus far ignored the roles of nature and culture.

With 78% of the world's poorest people living in rural areas, development aid is often targeted at financial and technological farming solutions. Development agencies encourage farmers to grow single cash crops, or monocultures, such as genetically modified cotton in India, that they can sell to rise out of poverty.

This strategy has had mixed results and, in some cases, serious ecological and social consequences that can reinforce poverty.

Modelling alleviation strategies

In our paper, we provide a way to extend poverty-trap thinking to more fully include the links between financial well-being, nature and culture.

Our new approach identifies three types of solutions to alleviate poverty.

The first is the so-called standard "big push", to tip countries "over the barrier" so they have better-functioning economies. The second is to lower the barrier. And this could include everything from training farmers to changing behaviour and practices.

These two classifications form the backbone of current aid strategies.

Innovative crops of the Alai Valley in Burgan Suu, Kyrgyzstan.

But we introduce a third classification, which we call transforming the system, with the goal of rethinking the traditional intervention strategy.

Using theoretical multi-dimensional models of different relationships between poverty and the environment at the household or community levels, we tested the effectiveness of these poverty alleviation strategies.

For example, a popular and empirically supported narrative is that poor people degrade their environment, but less well-known empirical evidence shows how poor people do not disproportionately deteriorate the environment. They are often stewards of nature and create and maintain features such as agricultural biodiversity.

Take for example, the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, which are characterised by high biological and cultural (aka biocultural) diversity. In a context like this, people may be poor in monetary terms but care for an incredible diversity of agricultural crops with their rich ecological knowledge and cultural practices.

And the diversity of traditional seeds may, in turn, help make them resilient at a regional level to shocks.

In such places, the conventional push "over the barrier" to increase food production (through improved seeds or fertilisers) may risk losing biodiversity or traditional knowledge.

Our models show how a transformation strategy in which endogenous actions change the status quo could in some contexts alleviate poverty without serious consequences for nature and culture. This possibility creates space for currently underrepresented narratives of development, such as agro-ecology or food sovereignty.

Why thinking beyond money is vital for solving the poverty puzzle
Transformative change

The results of the models show that conventional development interventions that ignore nature and culture can reinforce poverty; transformative change may be necessary in those contexts; and asset inputs may be effective in others.

These results are synthesised in the "poverty cube", which shows how we brought together the multi-dimensionality of poverty, different intervention pathways and diverse contexts.

Our approach to poverty traps may be useful for people in the development field to think through the implications of diverse development trajectories. Prior to our multi-dimensional poverty cube, poverty-trap models usually considered only the monetary dimension of being poor.

Now, development actors can more easily envisage the consequences of different alleviation strategies on not just economic well-being but also on nature and culture – and how they interact. The framework we developed may be useful for categorising interventions and their consequences on nature and culture across different sectors.

An interdisciplinary endeavour

The paper emerged from a number of years of collaboration between a theoretical physicist, sustainability scientists, and an economist. It involved a highly interdisciplinary research approach.

The importance of biophysical and cultural settings for poverty alleviation has long been understood. But interventions continue to be designed based on the poverty trap, a concept that usually neglects these factors.

Our poverty cube could help donor agencies better integrate poverty, environment and culture in their thinking and development planning. Integrating these factors will be a major challenge for the Sustainable Development Goals.

What we need to do next is dig deeper into understanding how this type of dynamic multidimensional modelling can be used in place-based studies aimed at communities.


Explore further

Resilience offers escape from trapped thinking on poverty alleviation

Journal information: Science Advances

Provided by The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.The Conversation

Citation: Why thinking beyond money is vital for solving the poverty puzzle (2017, May 23) retrieved 25 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2017-05-money-vital-poverty-puzzle.html
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May 24, 2017
The basic cause of poverty is the failure for governments to make it illegal to monopolize land and other kinds of natural resources such as the electro-magnetic spectrum of communication. A holder of a natural resource and not using it as much as possible or not allowing somebody else to do this is reducing the amount of opportunity there is to work, live or enjoy recreations on the land or in the sky. When land (or other resources) is withheld from use the effect is to make what is in use more rare and therefore more costly to have access rights for work or residence. Poverty occurs because as this effect of lost opportunity grows, the cost access to sites (ground-rent) increases and with it so do production costs. This means less goods get sold and used and fewer people can afford to buy them.The result is less employment and less circulation of money so fewer quantities of goods are demanded and the poorer people are the first to find the rising cost makes them poverty-struck.

May 24, 2017
The basic cause of poverty is population growth which exceeds the carrying capacity of the region. It is also the result of brains damaged by toxins, malnutrition, and substance abuse while still in the womb, as well as genetic deformity.

Motherhood is arguably the most important profession but the only one that requires no training or certification. Motherhood should be a privilege to be earned.

No one has the right to ruin an entire life because of their incompetence or indifference. Damaged brains become society's problem. They are responsible for crime, illness, reduced productivity, and substance abuse.

And they often cannot support themselves or their families.

May 24, 2017
When I watch this video film about the Alai Valley in Burgan Suu, Kyrgyzstan, I shudder! And that is not a normal reaction because of course, most viewers will be glad to see how these poor farmers have found that a few simple improvements can create more wealth, and that they can lift the community out of its previous condition of survival after great difficult and effort.

So why do I shudder? because I can imagine what it will be like in about 50 years. By that time all of these pioneers will have passed on and their children and grand-children will be in charge. They will have claims to the ownership of the land, that their forebears got for nothing, and find that they could set its areas and boundaries as land owners. Some of them will, of course, have become tired of rural life and left for the big cities and the bright lights and exciting possibilities. Those remaining in the village, having purchased the now productive land will soon find that they can speculate in its value.

May 24, 2017
Continued: As the town grows, the land can be withheld from use and the result will be that what is being used will become scarce and more costly, bringing a fine "free lunch" for its owners. Thus land ownership has turned what was progress into excessive costs, and prices, demand that cannot be met and eventually unemployment and poverty. All this from the ownership rights! A sensible government will use the benefit of the growing rent for investment in the infrastructure instead of taking it out of earnings and purchases. TAX LAND NOT LABOR; TAX TAKINGS NOT MAKINGS!

May 24, 2017
Youre talking about malthusian population growth. If pops grew at sustainable rates thers would always be enough for everybody.

Only western society has achieved this goal, mainly by giving women other things to do besides make babies. But western countries are being flooded with the overflow from religion-dominated cultures, with no end in sight.

The reason al quaida and its clones cant be defeated is because they live off a never ending supply of hapless, idle, disaffected youth who are taught from birth that the cause of all their misery is the infidel.

And so begins the overrunning half of the equation.

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