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18 April 2012

The Poverty of the Smallholder Ideal – NAI Forum

An article by Bernd E.T. Mueller, from The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, published in the NAI Forum.

Most policymakers and development practitioners typically assume that the great majority of people in rural sub-Saharan Africa are self-employed smallholder farmers. This is certainly the case in Tanzania, where ‘subsistence agriculture’ is seen as the prevailing economic condition in rural areas.

As a result, most government, donor and NGO rural development programmes focus on supporting smallholder farming. Tanzania’s newest national development strategy clearly assumes that most rural households rely mainly on own-account farming for their survival.

In contrast, our special 2008 labour survey in North Tanzania found that the majority of rural households had members engaged in wage labour during the observed season. Hence, contrary to conventional assumptions, participation in rural labour markets is extensive.

The rural poor generally lack the means to sustain themselves as self-employed farmers. Instead, they have to compete intensely for any available source of wage income—no matter how low-paid, short-term and demeaning. For this reason, any effective policy to reduce rural poverty has to focus its attention on the creation of more and decent wage employment.

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NAI Forum Link