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Peasant Farmers and Pandemics: The Role of Seasonality and Labour-Leisure Trade-Off Decisions

Feuerbacher, Arndt and McDonald, Scott and Thierfelder, Karen (2020): Peasant Farmers and Pandemics: The Role of Seasonality and Labour-Leisure Trade-Off Decisions.

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Outbreaks of infectious diseases in developing countries deplete the primary asset of the poor – their labour – through premature deaths and increased morbidity. This study examines how peasant households may respond to the global and local effects of pandemics in economies with underdeveloped health care systems and limited social safety nets. Using data for Bhutan, the study explores some implications of different seasonal patterns of labour demand and supply and transmission peaks in a recursive-dynamic economy-wide model that includes households’ labour-leisure trade-off decisions and encompasses the seasonality of the rural labour market. A global pandemic, like COVID-19, reduces household welfare, even in the absence of a local outbreak. The impacts on agricultural production and households’ food security are closely linked to the timing of local infection peaks. Peasant households can mitigate the impacts of the pandemic by reallocating time from leisure to agricultural activities; this mitigation strategy is however limited in seasons when leisure is scarce. The study contributes to the understanding of how pandemics, and the timing of pandemics, impact smallholder agriculture and farm households in low income countries.

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