The Effect Of Rural Poverty On Environmental Degradation

Project and Seminar Material for Sociology

The Effect Of Rural Poverty On Environmental Degradation

Chapter One


1.1 Background To The Study

The poor have traditionally taken the brunt of the blame for causing society’s many problems including, more recently, environmental degradation. There is a general consensus that poverty is a major cause of environmental degradation (WCED, 1987). For example, in one of the conclusions of the Bruntland Commission Report, which incidentally has been accepted as the blue print for environmental conservation, it was explicitly stated that, poverty is a major cause of environmental problems and amelioration of poverty is a necessary and central condition of any effective programmes addressing the environment (WCED, 1987). The poor are the victims of environmental degradation and the perpetrators of the degradation. They are basically short-run maximisers; they try to meet the needs of the present at the cost of the future. The poor and hungry often destroy their immediate environment for their survival. They cut down forests; their livestock overgraze grasslands; they overuse marginal lands; and they crowd into congested cities in growing numbers. The cumulative effect of these changes is so far-reaching as to make poverty itself a major global scourge. It is in this context that the first report on Human Development mentioned that “Poverty is one of the greatest threats to the environment” (UNDP, 1990).

Reduction of poverty is a tremendous and persistent challenge for the global community. Although everyone agrees on the goal of poverty reduction, policies towards achieving them often remain controversial or ineffective. Indeed, there is continual debate about which policies will be effective in different settings. Given that livelihoods of millions are at stake, there is an urgent need to reconsider the causes of and the remedies for poverty.

Poverty and its reduction are often linked to the natural resource base (Adams et al., 2004; Sunderlinet al., 2005; MEA, 2005). Teasing apart the direction of causality in this resource-poverty nexus is a serious empirical challenge. What is not in doubt is that livelihoods cannot be improved if the environmental settings and circumstances remain degraded. It is equally likely that local environmental conditions cannot be improved if most people are living at the very margin of survival. Moreover, it is clear that many poverty reduction efforts will fail if the environmental challenges are neglected (Adams et al., 2004).

The nexus of environment and poverty is especially strong in developing countries (Titilola and Jeje, 2005). The economic well being of many (especially rural) households directly depends on the quality of the environment and on the availability of natural resources, this is especially so for low-income countries like Nigeria where a substantial percentage of national income and even larger share of the active population directly depend on agricultural, forestry and fisheries resources (Titilola and Jeje,2005).

These arguments notwithstanding, studies on poverty in Nigeria have somewhat ignored the links between the environment and poverty. Furthermore, existing policy result in marginal groups (poor) being relegated to fragile economic environments due to inability to access productive land and lack of technology to improve the productivity of their land. This calls for the need to understand and empirically investigate these links as well as to assess the impact of the conditioning factors; these are the issues this study dealt with.

1.2 Statement Of Problem

Although the link between poverty and environment already became an issue of discussion along with the debate on sustainable development, research trying to grasp this link achieved indecisive results (Reardon and Vosti, 1995). The original Malthusian argument was that the poor peasants of developing countries over-exploit their environment out of sheer necessity, and the ensuing degradation further aggravates poverty (Ruijset al., 2008). The extension of this thought was that this poverty-environment “vicious circle” could be reversed, that poverty alleviation would automatically reduce environmental degradation and that reducing environmental degradation would alleviate poverty. Neither of the above argument received empirical support (Adams et al., 2004).

Poverty was not found to be the sole cause of environmental destruction, nor did increasing incomes guarantee improved environmental quality (Ruijset al., 2008). The concepts of poverty and environmental change had been traditionally approached as one dimensional internally homogenous phenomenon, which Reardon and Vosti (1995) were clearly far from. The strength and symmetry of the causal links between poverty and environment had been left out of the discussion and not enough attention had been paid to the farm household economics and food security links pertinent to the poverty-environment links. Therefore, the possible link between poverty and the environment could not be grasped with the traditional concepts.

Nowadays, the global concern about the natural resources conservation leads to projects and researches that aim at identifying the causes and the main consequences of environmental degradation as well as to search for alternatives and solutions to the problem. Banuri (1998) and Hayes and Nadkarni (2001) point out that this environmental degradation occurs both in developed and developing countries, in urban as well as rural spaces and is a consequence of the pressure due to the production’s increase and the population growth.

However, after the “Our Common Future” Report (1987), the debate about environmental degradation in developed countries shifts its attention towards the fact that developing countries exert the most important role in the natural resources degradation. From Our Common Future, also called Brundtland Report, onwards the environmental degradation began to be associated and linked to the poverty level of the population, leading some scientists to analyze this topic aiming at detecting some relationship between the poverty condition and the degradation of the environment. This necessitates the need to understand and empirically investigate these links as well as to assess the impact of the conditioning factors.

This study therefore addressed the following research questions:

  1. What are the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of farming households in the study area?
  2. What is the influence of socio economic and demographic factors on poverty among farming households in the study area?
  3. What is the level of poverty among farming households in the study area?
  4. What are the causes and level of environmental degradation in study area?
  5. What is the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation in the study area?
  6. What measures are employed by arable crop farmers to mitigate environmental degradation in the study area?

1.3 Objectives Of The Study

The broad objective of this study is to analyze the nexus or link between poverty and environmental degradation in Plateau State, Nigeria.

The specific objectives are to:

  1. Describe the socio economic and demographic characteristics of arable crop farmers in the study area,
  2. Estimate the relationship between socio economic and demographic characteristics of the farming households and their level of poverty in the study area,
  3. Determine the poverty level of arable crop farmers in the study area,
  4. Identify the causes and establish the level of environmental degradation in the study area,
  5. Determine the relationship between the poverty and environmental degradation in the study area, and
  6. Describe the mitigating measures of environmental degradation employed by arable crop farmers in the study area.

1.4 Hypotheses

According to Reardon and Vosti (1995), the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation is still scientifically yet to be exploited. The authors stated that the poverty-environment vicious circle originated from Malthus’s theory, whereby the population growth demands an area’s increase for feedstock and therefore push farmers towards the marginal lands accelerating the natural resources degradation. These farmers become poorer. The vicious circle suggests that the poverty alleviation will, necessarily, reduce the environmental degradation.

According to these reasoning, hypotheses tested in this study include the following:

  1. There is no relationship between the socio-economic characteristics of arable crop farmers and their level of poverty in the study area.
  2. There is no significant relationship between poverty level and environmental degradation in the study area.

1.5 Justification For The Study

Recent participatory poverty assessments, conducted in 14 developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, revealed a common perception by the poor that environmental quality is an important determinant of their health, earning capacity, security, energy supplies and housing quality (Brocklesby and Hinshelwood, 2001). Rural studies commonly observe that poor people’s economic dependence on natural resources makes them particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation (Ambler,

1999; Cavendish, 1999; Kepe, 1999; Reddy and Chakravarty, 1999; Cavendish, 2000). This population has a large dependency on the natural resources which are the bases of their lives, but because of the limitations regarding the quality and quantity of these natural resources, this population lack another economic alternative and therefore destroy this base. This raises concern about the future supply of goods and services provided by the natural resources on which the poor depend for their survival and sustainability of agriculture in these countries, that is a source of livelihood for the poor. Unless the environmental degradation is stopped or reduced, the current efforts might not provide long run solutions.

  • In Nigeria, about half of our citizens live under $2 a day – on the threshold of poverty.
  • Two thirds of the population lives under or around $1.25 a day – in extreme poverty.
  • This is because our economic growth since independence has bypassed the poor.

Reviewing global Gini coefficients which measure income inequality within nations, Nigeria is one of the most unequal nations in Africa and the world.While our economy grew, the incomes of the poor have not (El-Rufai, 2011). This is especially true of the rural and urban poor who together, account for much of Nigerian poverty. At current rates, it is estimated that by 2015, Nigeria will have more poor people than India and

China who have more than a billion people each (El-Rufai, 2011).

Nigeria’s national poverty profile has generally been on the rise since 1980, with two significant dips during 1985-1992 and 1996-2004. Focusing on the most recent surveys (1996 and 2004), the national poverty incidence was 65.6 percent in 1996 and declined to 54.4 percent in 2004. Similarly, in 1996, the poverty depth (P1) and poverty severity

(P2) were 0.358 and 0.207, but these decreased respectively to 0.225 and 0.122 in 2004. The national poverty incidence has however surged higher to 69 percent as at 2010 (NBS, 2011).

Nigeria has been shown to possess one of the worst environmental records in the world (Butler, 2005). Deforestation is a serious problem in the country, which currently has one of the highest rates of forest lost (3.3 percent) in the world. Since 1990, the country has lost some 6.1 million hectares or 35.7 percent of its forests cover (Butler, 2005).

Nigeria’s most biodiverse forests are disappearing at a faster rate. Between 1990 and 2000, the country lost a staggering 79 percent of these forests and since 2000, Nigeria has been losing an average of 11 percent of its primary forests per year doubling the rate of the 1990s. It is estimated that Nigeria is currently losing about 351,000 hectares of its landmass annually. These figures give Nigeria the distinction of having the highest deforestation rate of natural forest on the planet (Butler, 2005).

In the context of the world community being committed to the achievement of the goals of reducing population living under poverty by half by 2015, the need to effectively inter-link natural resource conservation and poverty alleviation has become more pronounced (UNDP, 2006).Conceptually, the existence of “poverty-environment nexus” implies that one problem is a significant determinant of the other. Where this is the case, reducing poverty may be an effective way to reduce environmental damage, or vice-versa. Joint solutions may be highly cost effective policy options when the two problems are simultaneously determined.

This study therefore is an attempt to assist policy makers to synergise with the farmers, environmentalist and researchers to facilitate the achievement of the first and seventh items of the millennium development goals; viz: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; and ensuring environmental sustainability respectively.

1.6 Limitation Of The Study

The limitation of the study is that due to time and financial constraints on the part of the researcher, the study was limited to only rural farming households in Plateau

State, North-Central Nigeria. The study did not consider:

The willingness to repay for the environmental resources consumed by the farming households.
Poverty – environmental degradation among non – farming households especially urban dwellers.

The Effect Of Rural Poverty On Environmental Degradation

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