Seasonality and seasonal income insecurity is a feature of poverty in many parts of the world.
In agricultural regions of developing countries, it’s known as the lean season — that dangerous period between planting and harvesting when job opportunities are scarce and incomes plummet.
Food stocks dwindle and poor families regularly skip meals. Not surprisingly, the lean season often has serious long-term consequences, particularly for pregnant women and young children.
Seasonal hunger and deprivation are perhaps the biggest obstacles to the reduction of global poverty, yet they’ve remained largely under the radar. But it is estimated that seasonal hunger affects somewhere between 300 million to 1 billion of the world’s rural poor. Our research shows that a credible number is around 600 poor million people are affected every year by seasonal hunger.
Some rural poor families cope with the hardships of the lean season by sending family members to other areas of their countries with better employment prospects. In rice-growing regions of northern Bangladesh, for example, a third of poor households send seasonal migrants to urban or peri-urban destinations to find temporary jobs that include rickshaw-pulling, construction and potato-farming.
Nonetheless, seasonal migration as a coping strategy is less frequent than might be expected, even though it often benefits poor rural families. That’s because poverty itself limits the ability of very poor people to afford temporary migration. And a migrant’s inability to find work after the family is stretched to the limit to pay for the move can have devastating consequences for households already living close to subsistence.