19 July 2009

Making Seasonality Season-Proof

For most of the readers of this blog, seasonality means holidays, digging out different clothes and buying different fruits. For most of the world's 2 billion poor people seasonality means a serious adaptation to the rhythms of rainfall, temperature, wages and prices. These adaptations are costly in terms of livelihoods, wellbeing and lives.


IDS just held a conference on Seasonality (see link above) which asked "why has seasonality dropped off the poverty agenda?". Many answers were proposed--policymakers' own ability to season proof their lives, the perception that urbanisation means seasonality is less important (it is not), and the relentless faddishness of international development.

One thing was not in doubt however, and that is the cost of unchecked seasonality. This was illustrated by most of the papers at the conference, but the one that stood out for me was by Michael Lokshin and Sergiy Radjyakin. They analysed the nutrition status of Indian infants by the month of birth. The direction of results was not shocking--children born in the monsooon months have worse malnutrition status--but the magnitude was. Children born in these months were around 50% worse off than their drier season counterparts, even controlling for other factors using econometric modelling The authors suggest that the rains generate a greater infection burden, exacerbated by poor sanitation and less parental care during a busy agricultural season which ramps up the infection-poor diet cycle that generates malnutrition. They suggest a few public policy measures to try to counter these rhythms such as better timing of immunisations.

It is ironic that just as we have come to terms with the importance of spatial diversity in development (think "growth diagnostics") we neglect temporal diversity. We must do better at season-proofing seasonality by embedding it better in policy processes and development education. We will be attempting to do this at IDS.

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