AfricaNSFThe Research University (TRU)

Assessing poverty dynamics in an arid agrarian context–pre-Saharan Morocco: University of Kentucky Research Foundation

Yoko Kusunose

[email protected]

This research is a two-year interdisciplinary project between an anthropologist (the PI) and an agricultural economist at the University of Kentucky (Dr. Yoko Kusunose). The purpose is to explore the determinants of upward economic mobility and chronic poverty in an oasis valley of southern Morocco and builds on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted for the Fellow's PhD in cultural anthropology at the University of Kentucky. The goals of the research are to: 1) empirically test a model of poverty dynamics developed through ethnographic field methods and a small sample of household case studies; 2) use the tools of economic poverty analysis to explain which households in the Mgoun valley experienced upward mobility or chronic poverty and why; and 3) use empirical, economic and qualitative, anthropological approaches to offer an explanation of vulnerability to poverty that places household strategies to manage income and assets in the context of broader structural and temporal processes. The hypothesis is that multiple stable equilibria–divergent and stable trajectories of capital accumulation for some and chronic poverty for others–have emerged for households in the Mgoun valley of Morocco. The primary research method is a survey of 300 household heads from<br/>throughout the Mgoun valley. The survey will use current and recall data on income, assets, demographic, and livelihoods to test the representativeness of previous research findings and yield new insights about poverty dynamics in this arid agrarian context. Households will be chosen through stratified random sampling techniques. This survey will allow for econometric analysis with the support of the faculty mentor. Complementary anthropological methods such as open and semi-structured interviewing will provide context for the survey data. The data collection and poverty analysis necessary for the project rely on an interdisciplinary collaboration between the quantitative techniques from economics and the anthropological emphasis on complex determinants of social and economic transformation.<br/><br/>Intellectual merit: <br/><br/>The proposed project addresses one of the four topic areas of interest outlined in<br/>the NSF report "Rebuilding the Mosaic": sources of social and economic disparities and processes that alleviate those disparities. It examines sources of disparity in a marginalized arid zone of a strategically important region of the world, North Africa and the Middle East. The research will contribute empirical and theoretical insights into how upward socio-economic mobility of some household may improve overall standards of living but also produces new forms of economic inequality. This contribution, though emerging from data specific to southern Morocco, will be applicable to other situations where migration and arid land agriculture are prominent features of the livelihood systems.<br/><br/>Broader impacts: <br/><br/>Conclusions from this research will be presented to Moroccan policymakers and researchers with the goal of enhancing official understanding of poverty dynamics at the household and community level. This research also has applied implications for development agencies, policymakers, and applied research institutes engaged in broader policy dialogues about how to support rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation efforts. The proposed project uses new theories of poverty dynamics–specifically how a dynamic view of poverty traps predicts who will or will not escape chronic deprivation–to explore how processes of upward mobility can occur outside of government agricultural development or poverty alleviation policies. In the case of southern Morocco, the use of remittances to support the emergence of small-scale commercial agriculture was a largely informal process driven by the migrants and their families, not official programs, but it also engendered new patterns of inequality. This is an important finding with implications for migration policy, poverty alleviation efforts, and our understanding of the role of agriculture in the diversified livelihood portfolios of the marginalized rural poor in arid settings around the world.<br/><br/>In addition, this being a postdoctoral fellowship project, it embodies integration of research, training and education. The project facilitates the Fellow's future career development in the emerging interdisciplinary fields of research within the social, behavioral and economic sciences.

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