Migration no guarantee out of rural poverty – WB

by Isagani de la Paz

MANILA–CONTRARY to popular beliefs, migration, despite the volume of money it brings, has neither brought rural folks out of poverty nor is it a sure fire way for farm people to clamber aboard the prosperity wagon.

“Where migration is more or less permanent, income from migration depends on the success of the migrant and the reason for migration. So migration is not a guaranteed pathway out of poverty,” the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development said in its recently released report debunking several myths on agricultural development.

The Washington, United States-headquartered IBRD, popularly known as The World Bank, cited in its 386-paged report that “despite massive rural-urban migration, rural poverty will remain dominant for several more decades in Asia”.

The bank’s World Development Report 2008 that focused on identifying ways for governments to lift some 600 million rural people from extreme poverty has said that while this has been achieved, it is not due to migration.

“More than 80 percent of the decline in rural poverty is attributable to better conditions in rural areas rather than to out-migration of the poor,” the report titled “Agriculture for Development” said.

“So, contrary to common perceptions, migration to cities has not been the main instrument for rural (and world) poverty reduction,” it added.
In fact, authors of the World Bank report noted that out-migration of people from rural areas has even contributed to the constant rate of poverty rate in cities.

The report, released October 19, noted while the poverty rate of US$1-a-day has been declining in developing countries –from 28 percent in 1993 to 22 percent in 2002, this “has been mainly the result of falling rural poverty (from 37 percent to 29 percent) while the urban poverty rate remained nearly constant (at 13 percent).”

The report also noted that during the period under study, 1993-2002, there was an 81-percent reduction in rural poverty worldwide. But this is “ascribed to improved conditions in rural areas; migration accounted for only 19 percent of the reduction”.

Migration, the report said, “lifts some of the rural poor out of poverty but takes others to urban slums and continued poverty”.


EVEN remittances from abroad are downplayed by the report on contributing to national poverty rate declines.

While the report acknowledges that there are “indirect effects of urbanization on rural poverty through remittances and rural wage changes,” this is “through tighter rural labor markets”.

But this argument, the report’s authors said, has a conservative but unlikely assumption: all rural-urban migrants are poor.

The bank computed migration’s contribution to rural poverty reduction using the US$2.15 poverty line rather than the US$1.08 extreme poverty line “because it is unrealistic to think that all migrants are extremely poor”.

Even so, using the same assumption that all those who migrate are poor, the report noted that reduction in rural poverty would still hit 81 percent, “not to migration”.

“Indeed, almost all the decline in South Asia and East Asia is because of a genuine decline in poverty in rural areas. Even when China is excluded from the sample, 67 percent of the reduction in rural poverty is from causes other than migration,” the report said.

According to data compiled by the Institute for Migration and Development Issues (Imdi), there is no direct correlation between the number of Filipinos going overseas for temporary or permanent work and stay, and the poverty incidence levels.

For example, the National Capital Region, composed of more than a dozen cities, has posted a 4.3-percent poverty incidence level in 2003. In an eight-year period beginning 1998, almost a million overseas Filipinos came from this region.

However, the data that the nonprofit group Imdi compiled couldn’t cite if these Filipinos just used the NCR as temporary residence prior to going overseas or which rural area they came from if they, indeed, migrated from farm villages.

It is difficult to determine so since the NCR is the reservoir of major government agencies processing the export of Filipino labor as well as the receptacle for the air travel and remittance industries.

Likewise, despite Davao del Sur, for example, posting a 24-percent poverty incidence rate and having recorded 55,117 Filipino migrants, Batanes island posted only a 9.2-percent poverty incidence level despite only 72 of its residents having left that fishing and farming province that’s the tip of the Philippines.

Another example is Pampanga, President Gloria Arroyo’s home province, which posted a six-percent poverty incidence level. It is second to the NCR for having the most number of Filipino migrants at 125,226. Compare this to Pangasinan, home province of former President Fidel V. Ramos, which had 111,029 of its citizens migrating in the eight-year period ending 2005. Still the province posted a poverty incidence level of 18.6 percent, more than double neighboring Pampanga’s.

With the exception of Batanes, 14 provinces have poverty incidence levels above the national average of 25.7 percent.

“The high poverty levels of these provinces can perhaps explain why citizens from these areas cannot easily migrate overseas,” the Imdi scoping study on migrant philanthropy released last August said.


EVEN the World Bank report admits it is difficult to establish migration’s direct impact on rural poverty reduction levels.

“Migration can be a climb up the income ladder for well-prepared, skilled workers, or it can be a simple displacement of poverty to the urban environment for others,” the report noted.

The report also cited that while remittances from migrants back to the farm household “can relax capital and risk constraints, the relationship between migration and agricultural productivity,” for one, is “complex.”

“The (temporary) absence of household members reduces the agricultural labor supply. Agricultural productivity can therefore fall in the short run but rise in the long run as households with migrants shift to less labor intensive, but possibly equally profitable, crops or livestock,” the report said.
Remittances, the report noted, “often drastically change the composition of the rural population” and “can pose (their) own challenges for rural development, because migration is selective.”

“Those who leave are generally younger, better educated, and more skilled. Migration thus can diminish entrepreneurship and education level among the remaining population,” the report said.

Likewise, the report cited there are evidence suggesting migration “is most accessible for the wealthiest and best educated of the rural population, as moving requires means to pay for transportation and education to find a good job.”

“Moreover, better-educated migrants are the most likely to have a successful migration outcome,” the report added.

It particularly cited the Philippines as having more female migrants to urban areas faring better than the less-educated males.

The report estimated some 575 million people migrated from rural to urban areas in developing countries over the past 25 years.

Of these, it said, “400 million lived in transforming countries, where migration flows increased to almost 20 million a year between 2000 and 2005.”
Migration flows as a share of the rural population have been traditionally highest in urbanized economies, but they have fallen over 2000–05 to an annual rate of 1.25 percent. In transforming and agriculture-based economies, the annual flow of out-migration steadily increased to 0.8 percent and 0.7 percent of the rural population, respectively.

The report also noted that international migration out of rural areas is male-dominated in Ecuador and Mexico, but female-dominated in the Dominican Republic, Panama, and the Philippines.

Note: To download the complete World Development Report 2008, go to this link.