This paper frames the discussion of agrarian transformations and 'surplus populations' in the Global South within a political economy and macro-structural consideration of the developmental challenges faced in the context of contemporary rapid population growth. The case is made that the prospect of an additional two billion people by mid-century needs to be urgently pre-empted by a radical trajectory shift towards (or back towards) strong redistributive institutional mechanisms, within which universal social policy needs to play a central role alongside other developmentalist initiatives aimed at retaining wealth in countries of the Global South and circulating wealth among increasingly tertiarised labour forces. Short of such radical shifts, the predominant supply-side emphasis in contemporary mainstream development policy – as represented, for instance, by much of the World Bank sponsored work on the ‘demographic dividend’ – arguably exacerbates the dilemmas of ‘surplus populations’, as laid out by Li (2009), that is, the increasing informalisation, casualisation and effective underemployment of labour transitioning to urban tertiary sectors in the Global South.

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Keywords agrarian transformation, population problems
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Series ISS Staff Group 4: Rural Development, Environment and Population
Note Paper presented at conference: 'Agrarian Transformation and Surplus Population in the Global South: revisiting agrarian questions of labour', closed workshop session of ICAS-LDPI Colloquium, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, 2 May 2011
Fischer, A.M. (2011). Demographic perspectives on agrarian transformations and 'surplus populations': supply-side banalities versus redistributive imperatives. ISS Staff Group 4: Rural Development, Environment and Population. Retrieved from