Heterogeneous Contraints, Incentives, and Income Diversification Strategies in Rural Africa
A burgeoning recent literature emphasizes "livelihood" diversification among smallholder populations (Chambers and Conway 1992, Davies 1993, Ellis 1998, Bryceson 1999, Ellis 2000, Little et al. 2001). While definitions vary within this literature, the concept of livelihoods revolves around the opportunity set afforded an individual or household by their asset endowment and their chosen allocation of those assets across various activities to generate a stream of benefits, most commonly measured as income. This holistic perspective has the potential to enhance our understanding of the strategies that farm households pursue to ensure food and income security given the natural and economic environment in which they operate. Diversification patterns reflect individuals' voluntary exchange of assets and their allocation of assets across various activities so as to achieve an optimal balance between expected returns and risk exposure conditional on the constraints they face (e.g., due to missing or incomplete markets for credit, labor, or land). Because it offers a glimpse as to what people presently consider their most attractive options, given the incentives and constraints they face, the study of diversification behavior offers important insights as to what policy or project interventions might effectively improve either the poor's asset holdings or their access to higher return or lower risk uses of the assets they already possess. Since diversification is not an end unto itself, it is essential to connect observed livelihood strategies back to resulting income distributions and poverty. Not all diversification into off-farm or non-farm income earning activities offers the same benefits and not all households have equal access to the more lucrative diversification options. Yet the livelihoods literature offers little documentation or explanation of important differences between observed diversification strategies. This paper addresses that gap by offering a
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