The Paradox of Poverty is a series of articles concerned with the multifarious aspects of the population problem in the underdeveloped nations of Asia and Africa. The two broad areas that are examined in the studies are the factors affecting fertility decisions and the pattern of socio-economic and political change that must/will accompany the rapid population growth that has been experienced by these countries. The questions raised have far-reaching policy implications particularly so in a world that is becoming increasingly aware of the perils of rapid population growth in the face of scarce productive resources. Good scholarship in this direction is to be highly valued.
In viewing the book in an overall perspective, one needs to point out that the articles pertaining to the second of the above mentioned issues, though interesting in their own right, bear only a very contrived relation to the question of population. It seems as if they have been forced to conform to a pre-set-format.
The first of the articles by Vinod Jairath is an examination of the various models that have been constructed to try and explain how fertility decisions are made in rural India. He contests the view that children are mere commodities with a positive income elasticity so that poor households would desire less children and the existence of large and poor families in practice is merely proof of a lack of knowledge regarding birth-control measures. He contends that fertility control measures are not new to the populace of rural India and that it is a whole array of social and economic factors characteristic of the environment which make for large families. The author has borrowed extensively from the study by Mamdani—there seems to be very little originality in content.
The studies by Ssennyonga and Mkangi are attempts at explaining family size decisions in Kenya. It is clear from these studies that the factors influencing these decisions are not the same as in India. In a region where casual agricultural labour is rare, children constitute an investment; thus children are used as labour (now or in the future) to extend the area of cultivation wherever possible. Obviously this would be an unmeaningful strategy under conditions of scarce land, as in India. In his study of the Ribe tribe Mkangi makes clear the importance of factors such as balance of male female ratio in ensuring economic success. The study, however does not limit itself to the issue of population but also considers the changes in the society (particularly land tenure) and what impact they may have on the future of the tribe. The other article on Kenya points out factors that may militate against the success of fertility control. The importance of ethnicity and rule by majority make for a desire to expand the numerical strength of one’s own tribe; also, polygamy, lack of education and unwarranted fears of birth-control measures. The desire for parental immortality in a society without durable assets and written records can be satisfied only through procreation. The two articles read fairly well and constitute thorough investigations of the subjects at hand.
The population problem of the less developed countries of Asia and Africa is the consequence of sharp decline in death rates without a corresponding decline in birth rates. The enormous population increase following this has complicated and multiplied manifold the economic and social problems facing these countries. The articles discussed have rightly emphasize that no simple palliative such as provision of contraceptives will do; all-encompassing social change is required. However, the wide ranging ramifications of the population increase has made this all the more difficult.
Sammy Onwuazor analyses the role of the modernization and concomitant population growth on the traditional society of the Igbos of Nigeria. The egalitarian social ethos is gradually being replaced by a society more geared to economic achievements and western education. He focuses particularly on the altered value attached to the Ozo title in the tribe. It does not seem clear from the article how exactly population increase has explicitly expedited this change. This is borne out by the author’s statements: ‘it is almost impossible to state whether the number of members of the society has been increasing or decreasing’ and ‘without a study of the Ozo title society itself, it is impossible to know what precise impact population growth and modernization have had on its operation. ‘
The same reservation would hold for Mukul Dube’s study of the uneven impact of the Green Revolution on rural India. ‘We have little reliable information about the effect of this population growth on the agricultural labourers.’ Dube cites various authors to establish the fact of increased inequality and poverty during the period considered but any hypothesis that this can be explained by population growth would be conjectural, at best.’ Population growth might accentuate the problem implied by the adoption of the New Agricultural Strategy by the richer farmers but so might many other factors.
Newton Gunasinghe provides us with a most interesting concluding article on the class consciousness of the articultural proletariat in Sri Lanka. He argues the case for a revolutionary agricultural labour force in their own right that could emerge as a result of continuous displacement of the small peasants from their land. He observes a trend along these lines in Sri Lanka because of population increase which reduces the size of the holding as it is passed from generation to generation ultimately making it a non-viable holding. Since the Chinese revolution, interest in the peasants as a potent revolutionary force has been increasing and notwithstanding Marx’s remarks on the French peasantry it seems as if major social overhauls in Asia and Africa would have to be initiated in the rural areas. Viewed in this light, this article probably has great significance for the understanding of the dynamics of the social system.
It is clear from the book that most of the students are still in the exploratory stages of their research and readers will have to wait for some valuable work to emerge. Further, it seems as if the articles have been strait-jacketed to a particular mould which tends to negate the value of the contribution.
Dinkar Khullar is Lecturer in Economics, St. Stephens College, Delhi University, Delhi.