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Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems

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Beyond Farmers and Micro-Entrepreneurs: Why Rural Wage Labor Matters

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LEO                   BEAM Exchange

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The discussion will include some of the webinar's unanswered questions, such as:

What kind of interventions could development agencies prioritize in an effort to benefit wage workers?

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Most of us associate rural poverty with smallholder farming and micro-entrepreneurs. The notion of the ‘subsistence farmer’ is commonplace. But this idea belies the millions of casual and seasonal wage workers, often migrants, who try to make ends meet on pitiful daily or piece rate incomes, earned under harsh and often dangerous working conditions in agriculture and beyond.

It is often forgotten that wage work provides substantial shares of income for the extreme poor, but it is also an important source of income for better-off farming households who might reinvest wage incomes in agricultural activities. Why, then, is this important work so neglected in our market development programming? Do we need to rethink our typical program designs?

USAID’s Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) project recently released an extensive evidence review on the linkages between wage labor and pathways out of poverty, with a particular focus on rural agricultural economies in sub-Saharan Africa. 

In this webinar, lead author Bernd Mueller, a labor economist with FAO’s Decent Rural Employment team and consultant with LEO, presented key findings from the research with time for discussion and Q&A. Key topics included:

  • What is "wage labor," and why does that distinction make a difference to incentive structures and our theories of change for impact? 
  • Why is wage labor so commonly overlooked and rarely shows up in official data? What are the implications for our "evidence-based design?" 
  • How important is wage work to rural poor households and their efforts to combat poverty? Which types of jobs and labor market characteristics can aid escapes from poverty?
  • What are the programming implications of a more labor-inclusive market systems development approach?

This webinar was organized by SEEP's Market Facilitation Initiative (MaFI), USAID's LEO project and the BEAM Exchange.

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Bernd Mueller

Bernd Mueller is a rural employment expert and consultant with ACDI/VOCA on the USAID-funded Leveraging Economic Opportunities (LEO) project. He is also a labor economist at the FAO's Decent Rural Employment team, where he provides policy and project support to partner governments and rural economies, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Prior to joining the FAO, Bernd was a research officer for the "Fair Trade, Employment and Poverty Reduction" project funded by DfID and based at SOAS where he also received his PhD in Economics for his work on primary labor market research in rural Tanzania. Bernd has a passion for raising awareness about the central role of (wage) labor, particularly for rural poverty reduction and development

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