The findings of livelihoods research conducted in East Africa and Malawi demonstrate that the role of agriculture in contributing to poverty reduction in sub-Sahara African countries is rather more complicated than the apparently straightforward mechanisms portrayed by enthusiasts for agriculture-led growth strategies in the region.
Rural livelihoods are diverse and founded on interdependencies between rural and urban areas. These interdependencies have deepened since market liberalisation in the 1980s due to increased price risk, rising input prices relative to output prices, detrimental HIV/AIDS effects on labour and other asset availabilities, environmental deterioration and continuing farm subdivision at inheritance.
The presence of these adverse factors and trends in agriculture means that poverty and vulnerability are associated more with undue reliance on farming than the converse. Those farms achieving yield growth do so due to cash resources generated from non-farm and urban activities, rather than being the origin of growth in such activities as proposed in the agriculture-led growth models. For those farm families that lack non-farm options, subsistence behaviour for food security is the norm. Indeed, in some rural areas it is probable that the proportion of food staples consumed in the home rather than sold in the market has increased rather than diminished over the past two decades, shrinking the monetised economy and increasing vulnerability as a consequence.
The livelihoods research reported here was called LADDER and its fieldwork was conducted in 2001.1 The main findings and policy implications have been published elsewhere (Ellis and Bahiigwa 2003; Ellis and Mdoe 2003; Ellis et al. 2003; Ellis and Freeman 2004, 2005). Nevertheless there remains plenty of scope for applying those findings to address different debates, and that is what is done here with respect to the role of agriculture in poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa. The article begins by providing a brief summary of the research context. This is followed by considering key findings in two case-study countries: Uganda and Tanzania. A further section draws together cross-country qualitative and quantitative findings in order to interpret their implications for the agriculture-led poverty reduction hypothesis. Finally, the article hazards some remarks about poverty-reduction approaches in Africa that build more on people’s observable livelihood strategies and less on idealised notions about the prospects for, and benefits of, agriculture-led growth.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 36.2 (2005) Livelihoods Research Findings and Agriculture‐led Growth