Development strategies and the Ethiopian peasantry: supply response and rural differentiation

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University of Dar es Salaam
The objective of this thesis is fourfold: (a) to seek a theoretical and historical explanation for the lack of growth and entitlement in peasant production and livelihood, (b) to investigate the extent to which peasant agriculture has responded to market forces and identify the factors that determine its responsiveness; (c) to describe how peasant production, consumption, and exchange behaviour is closely related to and governed by rural livelihood, which in turn is a function of, among other things, social relations involving disparate bargaining positions and power relations which sometimes might go against the logic of ‘market’ transactions; and (d) To examine how the functioning of rural markets and their interaction with the prevalent agrarian setting determine the evolution of agrarian structures and of markets themselves, the magnitude and social groupings of peasant supply response, as well as patterns of entitlements and livelihood in general. Four interrelated approaches are employed to grapple with the problem in the light of the objectives outlined and the set of hypotheses put forward. First, a theoretical conceptualisation of the problem is made, to situate the problem at hand within the available body of theoretical knowledge and to locate potential gaps in theory as applied to issues central to the study; that is, linking growth and entitlement objectives. Second, the problem is situated historically in its global dynamic context to determine remnants left from past policies and practices and links with global processes of change. Third, since the intricacy of rural livelihood and peasant production cannot be fully captured by using any single discipline (e.g. economics, geography, history, politics, sociology, anthropology), a multi-disciplinary approach towards understanding the problems and searching for alternative explanations is imperative. Fourth, building upon historical bearings, the research highlights how the interactions between macro-policy on the one hand and micro-processes on the other not only shape rural livelihoods but also determine policy outcomes. Two types of data were needed to meet the objectives stated, given the approaches chosen. One was macro-level secondary information on both quantitative and qualitative aspects. The other was a case study, that is, a micro-level study of peasant production conditions.The main findings of the research are as follows: one could generalise that past regimes failed to address adequately the trade-offs involved between the objectives of achieving growth and protecting the entitlement of the rural poor; the current regime recognises the tension between generating a sizeable peasant supply response and protecting entitlement of the poorer segment of the peasantry. Under the circumstances, however the impact of market liberalisation on increased peasant supply is very much limited by the extent to which the market for the most important factor of agricultural production, land is regulated; in view of Ethiopia’s land reform being one of the most radical and egalitarian in terms of its redistribute and levelling effects, it remains ironic that it couldn’t enhance agricultural growth and failed to improve peasant livelihood; a further attempt to link aspects of peasant supply response with entitlement considerations demonstrated that, given the level of productivity, the current pattern of landholding would not leave much spare ‘capacity’ to enable the production of a meaningful agricultural surplus at the household level. The basic conclusion of this thesis is that for a differentiated peasantry, encouraging market-based supply response accelerates differentiation. The strategic policy implication emerging from the analysis is that there are apparent tensions between the objectives of generating a sizeable peasant supply response and protection of entitlement for the poorer groups. It is appropriate for a balance to be struck between stimulating growth and protecting, if not creating, entitlement. Organizational imperatives are at the heart of achieving that objective. The following recommendations are made: (i) Failure of public policy effectively put the peasantry at the centre of the ‘development’ orbit remains at the heart of the agrarian crisis (ii) Future development strategies should move away from the general pattern of surplus extraction and peasant exclusion (iii) A fair, not exaggerated, credence to markets should be given without belittling the role of the state and other institutions (iv) Identification of structural constraints and real incentives at both macro and micro levels is necessary, and this should build upon peasant’s way of life, their constraints, potentials and opportunities. (v) Explicit consideration of peasant heterogeneity and the differentiated roles of markets is necessary in order to determine the extent to which a given reform can bring about intended changes and outcomes (vi) A fuller appreciation of peasant entitlement as a determinant factor in peasant supply response is crucial rendering it imperative to link the two objectives in a complimentary and consistent manner through a deliberate and careful institutional intervention.
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Peasantry, Ethiopia
Gabriel, A.H (2000) Development strategies and the Ethiopian peasantry: supply response and rural differentiation, Doctoral dissertation, University of Dar es Salaam. Available at (