Steve Wiggins on the rise of rural wages in Asia

October 2014
A silent revolution is happening in Asia. Rising rural wages are bringing the end to the seemingly inexhaustible source of cheap, unskilled labour within sight.

The figures are staggering: in Bangladesh, the average male rural wage rose by 45% in real terms between 2005 and 2010, while in India it increased by 35% between 2005 and 2012, and more than doubled in China between 1998 and 2007.

The consequences of rising rural wages are already felt across the region. In Malaysia, it has become increasingly difficult to recruit workers for palm oil estates. Myanmar  is experiencing farm labour shortages.

What lies behind this trend? Does this represent the end of extreme poverty in Asia? Will Asian manufacturers look for cheap labour elsewhere bringing millions of new jobs to Africa, something already starting to happen outside Addis Ababa in Ethiopia? If so, what can African countries do to take full advantage of this revolution?