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Climate change will stunt middle class growth

Contrary to general understanding, new research suggests that middle class farmers who invest in newer farming technology are going to be more negatively effected by climate change than poorer subsistence farmers.

According to the South Africa Node, “households may actually become more vulnerable to droughts as they transition away from traditional agriculture towards more modern agricultural livelihood strategies. As such it is those in middle income groups who may be more vulnerable to drought than the poor or the better-off. [Q]ualitative evidence from households in Malawi and Botswana [show] an ‘inverted U-shaped’ relationship between vulnerability of livelihoods to drought and income. We hypothesize that this relationship arises because although traditional farming practices such as the use of traditional seed varieties and broadcast planting are less productive they are able to deliver harvests across a range of rainfall conditions. In contrast higher yielding modern crop varieties accompanied by the use of fertiliser have a narrower range of rainfall tolerances.”

Implications from South Africa Node:
“ [This research] highlights a need for a more nuanced approach to identifying vulnerability to climate change that goes beyond focusing just on the “poor”. [Additionally] with more countries, communities and households being encouraged towards more modern agricultural practices in order to improve yields and so food security, more support is needed to help those in the middle to cope and adapt so as to reduce their vulnerability to drought while in transition.”

Implications from Institute for the Future:
If climate change will indeed cause increased poverty within the newer middle class farming communities this in effect will undo work that has been done to bring the poorest farmers out of their cycle of poverty. As the middle class farmers find themselves in cycles of debt due to the inability to pay off their farming loans, they will fall back into no-to low-technology subsistence farming or move to urban slums in search of city work. As one group is helped up from the lowest step of the development latter, they will be supplanted by a new one. The danger is this new group of potentially impoverished farmers will be increasingly disenfranchised and may increase the potential for conflict.

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