Perspectives on Seasonal Poverty

6 July 2009

Seasonality and Agriculture, Bangladesh8 July 2009

The costs of ignoring the seasonal dimensions of poverty are enormous. Yet seasonality is rarely reflected in policy on agricultural investment and social protection. IDS is hosting an international conference that seeks to change this by reviving academic and policy interest in seasonality.

Why focus on seasons and poverty?

Most of the world’s poor live in rural areas and are dependent on agricultural and livestock economies. For these households, poverty, hunger and illness are highly dynamic phenomena, changing dramatically over the course of a year in response to production, price and climatic cycles. When acute hunger or disease occurs, it is not typically due to conflict or natural disaster, but as result of seasonal influences -annually recurring periods when existing harvest stocks have dwindled, little food is available on the market and prices shoot upward. This results, predictably, in cycles of poverty that can be devastating.

Convening for action on seasonality

From 8-10 July 2009, over 50 international poverty experts, including academics and practitioners as well as policymakers from both government and international agencies are convening at the Institute of Development Studies to think through lessons from the past, examine current research, review good practice and consider policy options for the future.

The conference highlights the costs of overlooking seasonality in poverty reduction programmes, which can result in shrinking food stocks, rising prices, and a lack of income that in turn contributes to spikes in malnutrition, mortality, and hunger-related illnesses.

Robert Chambers of the Institute of Development Studies and a convener of both the 1978 and 2009 international conferences said that ‘the situation cries out for action'.

New challenges and new perspectives

The conference Seasonality Revisited: Perspectives on Seasonal Poverty comes thirty years after IDS’ first seasonality conference in 1978 when the links between seasonality and poverty were well understood and pioneering work on seasonality in tropical agriculture was eagerly undertaken. This research identified a cluster of negative factors that converge to make the lives of poor people worse during the pre-harvest months every year.

Since then, a number of things have changed – structural adjustment programmes, HIV and AIDS, climate change, the global food and financial crises – which all have seasonal dimensions or implications. However, these seasonal dimensions are underappreciated, and policy responses in the areas of agricultural investment and social protection programmes rarely pay due attention to seasonality.

The 2009 conference will feature research and analysis from across the globe and draw lessons from those directly affected by seasonal poverty.

The conference programme, papers, newsletter and other resources - such as recommendations from the panel of experts – can be read on the conference website.

The event is hosted by the Future Agricultures Consortium and IDS’ Centre for Social Protection. It is funded by the UK Department for International Development.

For more information about the conference or IDS research on seasonality, please contact: Stephen Devereux ( or Rachel Sabates-Wheeler (

Photo: Panos / GMB Akash.


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