Sub-Saharan Africa betwixt and between: rural livelihood practices and policies

Sub-Saharan Africa betwixt and between: rural livelihood practices and policies

Changing economic and social patterns in a wide variety of rural African settlements

 

Structural adjustment policies have triggered a huge, unplanned income diversification response in Africa’s rural areas. ‘Betwixt and between’ - the balancing act of African rural dwellers cannot be maintained indefinitely. This paper looks at the changing economic and social patterns in a wide variety of rural African settlements and the blurring of rural/urban contrasts, drawing on evidence from six African countries. The paper argues that sensible directional policies that confront the daily dilemmas of de-peasantisation are imperative. Recommendations draw on the need to reflect the transitional state of the peasant in livelihoods approaches and in issues relating to social capital and the design of programmes focusing on food security and human capital development.

Key findings from the document include:

  • the last two decades of the 20th century stand out as a period of momentous change for Sub-Saharan African economies. Amidst high levels of material uncertainty and risk, rural populations have become more occupationally flexible and spatially mobile
  • de-peasantisation represents a specific form of de-agrarianisation in which peasantries lose their economic capacity and social coherence, and shrink in size
  • while each country has had its own experience of de-peasantisantion, structural adjustment and the imposition of a neo-liberal policy framework has had an overriding effect. The effects of this have to be disaggregated for the various countries and for different types of social groups
  • there is a need to distinguish between diversification as a risk management and default coping strategy. These are not only district but may be seen to have effect in different periods and different causes
  • a theory of the rural people being ‘betwixt and between’ value systems and modes of livelihoods is put forward. This reflects the persistence of traditional symbols and ceremonies along side the acceptance of the need to embrace the city.
Throughout the structural adjustment era there was a running criticism of the poverty generating side effects of neo-liberal policies. In the process, sensitivity to rural poverty alleviation has been heightened within donor agencies. Social capital (SC) and sustainable livelihoods (SL) have emerged as some of the key new conceptual frameworks. Implications from the paper include:
  • findings have indicated that the relevance of the concept of social capital to the social and institutional dynamics of rural Africa is declining
  • the rural nature of sustainable livelihoods cannot be assumed. Local livelihood objectives need to be situated within the context of the global market’s allocative function
  • the build up of human capital, not social capital, is what is fundamentally at issue in view of the labour redundancy that the world’s peasants are currently experiencing. Education and skill bases (non-farm) are becoming the most important capability enhancers in the context of peasant transition
  • there is a need to focus on household and individual portfolios, how they have evolved over time and to share best practice. Methods have to be designed to cope with the heterogeneity of these portfolios at all levels and build in a ‘sense of direction’ into SL process
  • appropriate wealth indicators, beyond land holding, to cope with the heterogeneous nature of communities need to be formulated.