Pathways towards prosperity in rural Nicaragua: or why households drop in and out of poverty, and some policy suggestions on how to keep them out
While Nicaragua over the past decade has ranked among the poorest countries in Latin America in terms of per capita GDP, data from the last three LSMS surveys (1993, 1998, and 2001) has shown a consistent, though modest, decline in the incidence of poverty. Nationally, the incidence of poverty among individuals has fallen from 50.3 to 45.8 percent over this period. Most poverty is concentrated in the rural sector (with an incidence of 67.8 percent) and in particular in the Central region (75 percent) (World Bank, 2002a). Given the dynamism of agriculture over the last decade, it is somewhat surprising that the reduction of rural poverty has not been greater. Further, this apparent slow, but stable decline in overall poverty incidence masks active movement at the household level in and out of poverty, particularly in the rural sector. At the household level it is much more difficult to find and explain an overall march towards increased living standards. In this paper we analyze the dynamic of poor households moving in and out of poverty, using panel data from the 1998 and 2001 LSMS surveys. The availability of panel data offers an opportunity to analyze who and how households escaped or fell into poverty. What were the principal exit strategies used by households? What are the major determinants of exiting poverty and remaining in poverty? How do poor rural households achieve prosperity?
While we touch on both the rural and urban poor, we concentrate primarily on rural households, given their much larger numbers and greater heterogeneity. We apply a variety of methodologies in our analysis of poverty exit strategies. In Section II we provide some background information on the rural sector in Nicaragua, and in Section III we analyze changes in asset ownership and use as well as poverty status. We analyze who has left and entered poverty and provide a description of their characteristics. Given insufficient data points to separate chronic and transient poverty by econometric means, we will instead characterize these different groups of households in descriptive terms. In Section III we briefly describe the situation of agriculture, agricultural assets, and agrarian institutions, the basis of the rural economy in Nicaragua.
Next, in Section IV we use econometric methods to find the determinants of changes in welfare over the panel period as measured by consumption and income. In the conclusions in Section V, we will bring these three types of analysis together and build a matrix of poverty exit paths combined with policy recommendations for specific categories of rural households. Full results can be found in Appendices II, while a detailed discussion of panel data issues, most importantly that of attrition, can be found in Appendix I.
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