Growing ones way out of poverty.

Immediately, before attempting to consider any solutions to poverty, one must attempt to understand what exactly poverty is. Simply, it is described as an income of below $1.90 per person per day.

A project known as Drylands Development Programme (Dry Dev) worked on by Dave Harris from the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) aims to improve the lives of rural communities and farmers living on the poverty line in Northern Africa.

What does Dry Dev do?

The project looked at households in 5 African countries to understand how much return is required to push household member’s personal daily income above the $1.90 poverty line.

From their calculations, a $1000 return will push less than 15% of households over a $2 income per person. To get 70% of households out of the poverty limit, each one would have to make an annual return of over $4000 per hectare. This may seem a small amount of money in terms of yearly profit, but these are not mass-machined farms. The labour is done by hand, by family members.

The main problem focusing these farmers, is not the products they are growing. There are many products that can be grown that produce very high returns: Coffee/tea; livestock and dairy; and palm oil do well economically.

There are several variables which play a huge role in determining the feasibility of growing certain products.

  • Soil quality
  • Skill level
  • Weather conditions
  • Desire to farm

Each of these proves an obstacle for poverty stricken farmers living in African countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Mali. We know that most of Africa, particularly the north is very arid and almost desert-like with minimal rainfall which is a poor combination for agriculture. A less obvious aspect is skill or desire in farming. Not all products are easy to produce, some require specific techniques which aren’t common practice among farmers. Also, not everyone in rural communities wishes to become farmers.

The main goal of the project is to try and understand the benefits of implementing new farming technology to increase productivity and allow farmers to break the $1.90 boundary. To do this, the new technology has to compete with old techniques and non-farming options which are often more desirable. This is often the starting point of a terrible cycle involved these projects in which the poor income from farms leads to many to seek extra work off the farm, this in turn leads to a less productive farm and therefore less income.

Overall, the project finds that agricultural advances are good on paper but not as beneficial in the real world, particularly for smallholder households.


As with my previous post, I have minimal interest in plant-based sciences due to my specialisation in animal behaviour. However, I do find a great deal of interest in the anthropogenic aspect of this topic and do find it remarkable how complex the world of poverty is and how it is not simply a matter of giving people better tools and making things “easier”.


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