Monday, March 16, 2009

Collins - Labor Scarcity and Ecological Change

Jane L. Collin’s piece Labor Scarcity and Ecological Change is an incredibly informative piece discussing the issues regarding and surrounding labor scarcity and its effects on Latin American families and communities. She begins by defining the nature of labor scarcity and the ways in which it affects many contemporary rural communities, examining the relationships between economic diversification, migration and trade faced by rural households. She then moves forward to examine the many debates over labor availability amongst rural commoners and lastly covers the policy dilemmas that arise, using the case study of the Peruvian Andes and how the experiences and lifestyle of the people in the rural communities affects their lives and production.


Her section titled The Nature of Labor Scarcity in Rural Areas takes the work of Deere and de Janvry (1979) to a higher level, discussing the idea that wage is not work, however it is the only activity that takes peasants off of their farms and into the work force. In northern Peruvian homes for instance nearly half of their income is from the sale of labor power. Collins discusses land and labor scarcity by pointing out three major observations, one being that land scarcity arises from processes of land transfer and encroachment, as well as demographic growth, (Important in my opinion). Second she states that whatever the cause of land scarcity the downward pressure it exerts on a household’s income may FORCE individuals to leave rural areas in order to increase household income and commerce (Not a guarantee that demographic growth and rural exodus will eventually balance one another). And lastly a factor that may force rural individuals and families to diversify their production is the decline in the trade in which they are experiencing due to secular economic trends, the emulsion of small business family farms and a relative decline in prices.

Collins goes on to discuss Visions of Labor Surplus and Scarcity in Agricultural Research and uses W. A. Lewis to illustrate this information. Lewis’s proposition was that the economics of developing nations could be viewed from two perspectives, the first being from a position of low productivity , basing the intensity and remuneration of labor from a view of customs or tradition, the second proposing a comparison between population figures in relation to capital and natural resources putting limitations on the social and family environment. Lewis had been criticized on three different counts, an implication that neglect of agriculture was a force and motive for economic growth, a methodological/empirical criticism and lastly a his model being based on evidence that was weighted in historical contexts, though there is a clear point in his model basing out of historical contexts when looking at “political repression, debt bondage, and racial, cultural and gender-based barriers to economic participation in relation to opportunities available for rural households and communities.

For me the most intriguing section of this article was the section The Seasonal Migration of Aymara Cultivators, where Collins discussion shifts away from the logistics of labor scarcity and towards and application with the glance at the Aymara, which represent a case where the diversification of economic activities on and off the farm have stretched the labor resources of the population to their limit. With relatively small plots of land as well as unfavorable markets it is no wonder that the people of the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes are faced with labor and ecological issues. Having a lack of knowledge for cultivation and limited labor availability it is no wonder they are facing such issues. Families must travel to the lowlands for work in the off months, distancing themselves from themselves (which seems illogical but it makes perfect sense) as well as placing strain cultural and ritualistic practices.

This was a very thought provoking piece.

1 comment:

  1. While I think Collins does a good job of covering the relationship between labor and food scarcity, I think she could've done a better job of incorporating ecological change into the discussion. Honestly, while her article is titled Labor Scarcity and Ecological Change, it appeared to me that ecological change took a back seat in this article. In her part about Jamaica, for example, she barely even mentions that the project dealt with soil conservation.

    In past articles, I've seen plenty of discussion of the consequences of actions taken in the name of protecting the environment, and whether those actions may actually do more harm than good. I would like to have seen more discussion from Collins on policies' effects not only on labor and food supply, but also the environment itself. If a policy is put in place to protect the environment, it only makes sense to evaluate the success/failure of the policy, in part, on whether it does have any positive effect on the environment.