Resilience offers escape from trapped thinking on poverty alleviation

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Science Advances  03 May 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 5, e1603043
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1603043
  • Fig. 1 A resilience approach to poverty traps.

    (A) Dealing with the interactions between multiple dimensions of poverty is critical to understanding and alleviating poverty. Here, we focus on humans and nature as part of interlinked social-ecological systems, in which economic activity is dependent on society and the biosphere. To assess how these interlinkages affect alleviation of rural poverty, we construct a series of multidimensional poverty trap models (gray dots and lines). In these models, we operationalize the dimensions of “biosphere,” “society,” and “economy” using capitals. (B) Classification of poverty alleviation pathways based on resilience thinking. This classification is used to implement different poverty alleviation pathways in our multidimensional poverty trap models. The three types are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive; any specific alleviation strategy is likely to combine features of multiple types. [Image credit: J. Lokrantz/Azote]

  • Fig. 2 Conventional alleviation pathways lead to deleterious consequences in intensification trap models.

    Equations and loop diagrams representing the feedbacks that reinforce poverty in the conventional poverty trap model (A) and two- and and three-dimensional intensification trap models (D and G). These models are subject to type I (B, E, and H) and II (C, F, and I) interventions. For the conventional poverty trap model, we plot the functional forms for the savings and depreciation terms; fixed points are the intersections of these curves. For the higher-dimensional models, we plot attractors (colored discs) and their basins of attraction (colored areas or volumes). Trajectories associated with different alleviation pathways (red arrows) and attractors before type II interventions (unfilled colored circles) are shown. Full specification of the models’ qualitative assumptions is provided in table S1, and their mathematical form is provided in Supplementary Methods.

  • Fig. 3 Effective poverty alleviation is context-dependent.

    Intensification trap model from Fig. 2G after a transformation (A) as part of a transform the system (type III) pathway (B). Function definitions from Fig. 2 also apply. Subsistence trap model (C) after type I (D) and II (E) interventions. Model dynamics are shown using basins of attraction and alleviation trajectories, as in Fig. 2. Full specification of the models’ qualitative assumptions is provided in table S1, and their mathematical form is provided in Supplementary Methods.

  • Fig. 4 Solving the poverty-environment puzzle.

    Using resilience thinking, we integrate complex interactions among multiple dimensions of poverty, diverse poverty alleviation pathways, and diverse poverty-environment relationships into the poverty trap concept. From multidimensional poverty trap models based on these inputs, insights on effective poverty alleviation pathways emerge. [Image credit: E. Wikander and E. Wisniewska/Azote]

  • Table 1 Commonly assumed or observed social-ecological relationships in local, agricultural, developing world contexts.

    We emphasize that none of these assumptions are “right” or “wrong” but will apply in some cases and not in others, or offer a different level of explanation for the same relationship. This literature review is intended to be representative rather than exhaustive. We use some of these assumptions to build multidimensional poverty trap models.

    RelationshipAssumption/observationUse in models
    Poverty and environmental
    Poor people degrade the environment: Poor people are heavily resource-
    dependent; they have no other option than to exploit and degrade natural
    resources (37, 77). This relationship is empirically observed (26, 78).
    Subsistence trap model
    (Fig. 3, C to E)
    Poor people do not degrade the environment: No evidence for causal relationship
    between poverty and biodiversity loss (79, 80). Poor people are often those
    with strong traditions of agricultural practice, which creates and maintains
    biodiversity and other features of agricultural landscapes (31, 32, 81).
    Medium or large landholders can be the primary perpetrators
    of deforestation (82). See also justification for intensification degrades.
    Intensification trap model
    [Figs. 2 (D to I)
    and 3 (A and B)]
    Poor people degrade the environment but this is due to political and
    socioeconomic relations: Environmental degradation by the poor
    is caused by consumption patterns of the rich. Poverty itself is
    politically and historically caused (for example, colonialism) (35, 77).
    Conventional agricultural
    intensification and
    environmental degradation
    Intensification degrades: Conventional agricultural intensification
    degrades the environment (83, 84).
    Intensification trap model
    [Figs. 2 (D to I) and 3 (A and B)]
    Environmental effects of intensification are not considered:
    Short-term productivity gains outweigh possible long-term
    effects on the environment (85, 86).
    By omission of natural capital,
    conventional poverty trap model
    (Fig. 2, A to C)
    Sustainable intensification and
    environmental degradation
    Sustainable intensification works: Sustainable intensification can
    produce more output from the same area of land while
    reducing negative environmental impacts (66, 87, 88).
    Subsistence trap model
    (Fig. 3, C to E)
    Sustainable intensification can have unintended consequences: “In practice
    [sustainable intensification] can mean business-as-usual intensive
    farming with slight modifications to try and tackle the growing
    environmental crises caused by industrial agriculture (89).”
    Economic development and
    environmental degradation
    Environmental Kuznets curve holds: Industrialization initially
    increases environmental degradation, until some point where
    technology improves and degradation decreases (90, 91).
    Environmental Kuznets curve does not hold: The curve is generally not supported
    by empirical evidence; it assumes an industrial development trajectory;
    it does not consider effects on finite global resources (92, 93).
    Traditional knowledge and
    environmental conservation
    Traditional knowledge and practice conserve the environment: Traditional
    knowledge and practices have coevolved with the environment in some
    landscapes. Local or indigenous peoples often have a relationship with
    natural resources that enable sustainable management (17, 32, 41, 94).
    Intensification trap model with
    cultural capital [Figs. 2 (G to I)
    and 3 (A and B)]
    People should decouple from agricultural land to conserve the environment:
    Intensive development and technology are necessary to achieve
    sustainable development. Humans should be decoupled from
    the land through rapid urbanization (95).

Supplementary Materials

  • Supplementary Materials

    This PDF file includes:

    • Supplementary Methods
    • table S1. Qualitative model assumptions.
    • References (98–101)

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