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close this bookReversing the Spiral - The Population, Agriculture, and Environment Nexus in Sub-Saharan Africa (WB, 1994, 320 p.)
close this folder1. Introduction
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe three basic concerns
View the documentKey elements of the ''Nexus''
View the documentPopulation growth revisited: Feedback from the Nexus
View the documentElements of an action plan
View the documentConclusions

Population growth revisited: Feedback from the Nexus

Agricultural stagnation and environmental degradation probably inhibit the demographic transition because they retard economic development, which is the driving force behind this transition. The extraordinarily high fertility rates prevailing in Sub-Saharan Africa are the result of many factors. The fundamental problem is low demand for smaller families. In many societies, becoming a parent is a precondition for becoming a socially recognized adult. Fertility enhances female and male status, while infertility can result in severe anxiety and, particularly for women, can be socially and economically devastating. Such wide-spread phenomena as polygyny and women marrying considerably older men tend to increase women's eventual economic and social dependence on sons and hence their willingness to bear many children.

Infant and child nutrition and mortality are affected by the availability of safe potable water and by the number of nutritious and warm meals provided. Where environmental degradation reduces the availability and accessibility of water and fuelwood, there is a negative impact on infant and child mortality and hence a positive impact on parental demand for more children. Where girls are kept out of school to help with domestic tasks, including water and fuelwood fetching, there are strong negative repercussions for their fertility preferences and their ability to make knowledgeable decisions about family planning once they reach childbearing age.

The preference for many children is also linked to economic considerations. In many communal land tenure systems, the amount of land allotted for farming to a family by the community (through its head or its chef de terre) is a function of the family's ability to clear and cultivate land With hired labor in most settings being rare (although labor pooling for certain tasks is not uncommon), it is family size or, more correctly, family labor that determines land allotment This is also true in open-access systems where the size of holding equals land cleared and cultivated. This counteracts efforts to simulate demand for fewer children. Moreover, as long as there is (or is perceived to be) as yet unfarmed and unclaimed land available, there is no incentive for individuals to manage their land more intensively or to limit their family size so they can bequeath a viable {arm to their offspring.