Menu ENN Search

Dynamics of livelihood diversification in post-famine Ethiopia

Summary of published paper1

Wollo, Ethiopia

Income diversification has been shown to be positively associated not only with wealth accumulation but also with an increased ability to withstand exogenous shocks. The commitment to diversification as an explicit objective within livelihood development strategies assumes that poorest households in risky environments can, and indeed want, to avail themselves of opportunities presented to diversify. As a result, the promotion of off-farm employment as policy has gained widespread support across a spectrum of development agencies from the World Bank to INGOs, especially in countries facing repeated income and consumption shocks. However, according to a recently published study, little is known about how shocks affect diversification over time as households reconsider past choices and adapt to new conditions.

This study sought to identify relevant associations between income diversification, household perceptions of livelihood risks and changes in consumption outcomes over time in post-famine Ethiopia. Four key questions were explored:

  1. to what extent did households emerging from the famine period with relatively higher income and calorie consumption levels also have a more diversified income base
  2. was higher income diversification in 1989 associated with a greater increase in diversification by 1994, using a household's ranking according to income or consumption
  3. which households increased their share of income from non-cropping activities most during the inter-survey years - those already strongly committed to diversification or those previously less diversified
  4. did household heads perceive a lack of non-farm income activities to be an important risk factor in famine vulnerability, and did such perceptions play an identifiable role in determining the nature of their income portfolio.

Survey context and approach

In 1989/90 over 500 households were interviewed in 7 communes located in different parts of the country. Communities were purposively sampled according to a range of famine experiences, forms of public intervention, agro-ecologies and ethnic groups. Almost 300 of the original households were revisited in 1994 as part of an expanded survey. The five years straddled by the survey saw improvements in farm output that allowed for fairly rapid post-famine recovery. Part of the increase was due to improved weather and part due to political and economic reforms, e.g. market liberalisation, currency devaluation, land reforms and redistribution, and a period of greater donor support. Households in highland sites increased cereal and non-cereal yields by 40 and 400 per cent respectively. The effects were less dramatic in the lowlands where cereal yields fell and non-cereal yields only improved by 20%.

Cropping provided the main source of earnings for all income groups in both periods. Crop income as a share of total income was 68% among poorest households in the first survey, falling to 58% (statistically significant) in the second. For wealthier households crop income represented only 44% of total income, falling to 41% (not significant) in the second survey.

Mean income rose in real terms from $14 per capita to $39 among poorest households and from $233 to $519 among upper income households during the same period. The share of food in total household expenditure among poorest households was close to 90% in the first period, falling to 73% in the second. Among upper income households, the share fell from 70% to 54 per cent.

Findings and conclusions

Households surviving the famine with higher than average income and food consumption levels also had a more diversified income base and more valuable assets in hand (especially livestock). Analysis of the determinants of diversification at that point in time (1989) indicates that greater income diversification (out of cropping) was positively associated with per capita income level, higher dependency ratios, location in the highlands, and ownership of non-farm assets. No significant association was found between education (literacy) and changes in well-being over time, arguably because there were only minimal opportunities for formal salaried employment in the inter-survey period.

While many households perceived older age of household head and small farm size to be predictors of household risk, such an association was not confirmed empirically. However, most households did believe that earning income outside of cropping was a key to reducing risk. Yet, there was an inverse association observed between female-headed households and diversification despite the fact that female headed households were significantly more likely to believe that off-farm income protects a household against famine.

Nevertheless, the post-famine recovery period was a time of dynamism and change as highlighted by the movement between income and consumption deciles. This suggests that opportunities for change are neither uniformly spread nor captured only by the already wealthy. In fact the households that most increased their flow of non-crop income between the two surveys were the poorest and least diversified in the initial period. By contrast, the already well diversified (in 1989) maintained their level of diversification but still increased their income flow and asset wealth.

The authors summarise the findings by suggesting that complex trade-offs exist between perceptions of risk and diversification practices - trade-offs that vary considerably by household type and location. Furthermore, such differences in household choices and opportunities need to be better understood if development agents are to deliver effectively the benefits of off-farm employment policies to the poor (particularly women farmers) in risky environments.

Show footnotes

1Block S and Webb P (2001): The dynamics of livelihood diversification in post-famine Ethiopia. Food Policy, 26, pp 333-350

More like this

FEX: A New Household Economy Method for Assessing Impact of Shocks

By Celia Petty and John Seaman1 Celia Petty is Social Policy and Livelihoods Adviser at Save the Children UK. She has worked as an adviser on food security and livelihoods...

FEX: Emergency Food Security and Livelihoods Project in Amhara and Oromia regions

By Shekar Anand, Oxfam Shekar is Programme Director for Oxfam GB in Ethiopia. Past experience includes working with OXFAM, CARE, CIDA, and Government in Aceh, India, Zimbabawe...

FEX: Resilient farming in Satkhira, Bangladesh

By Emmanuelle Maisonnave and Julie Mayans View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici Emmanuelle Maisonnave is the Institutional Knowledge Building...

FEX: Operational factors in the integration of nutrition into agriculture and livelihoods programmes in Zimbabwe

By Anne-Marie Mayer, Rose Ndolo and Jane Keylock View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici Anne-Marie Mayer works as a consultant for programmes at...

FEX: Determinants of household vulnerability to food insecurity in Malawi

Summary of Research1 Location: Malawi What we know: Subsistence farming households are vulnerable to food insecurity. What this article adds: A household level study...

FEX: Improving minimum dietary diversity for children aged 6-23 months when household affordability is a major constraint in northeast Bangladesh.

View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici By Md Masud Rana, Sheikh Shahed Rahman, Md Al-Amin Shovan, Bazlul Kabir Joarder and Mohammad Raisul...

FEX: Famine Avoided Despite Drought and ‘Zud’ in Mongolia

Summary of published paper1 Nomadic herding remains at the core of Mongolian society, employing a significantly larger proportion of the population than any other economic...

FEX: Swaziland Cash and Food Transfer Programme

By Rosie Jackson Rosie Jackson currently works for Save the Children UK as an Emergency Food Security & Livelihoods Advisor. Based in London, she provides technical support to...

FEX: Is reliable water access the solution to undernutrition?

Summary of research1 Location: Global What we know: Irrigation interventions have the potential to reduce undernutrition by impacting food security, nutrition and...

NEX: Women’s gardening in The Gambia

Olawale F. Olaniyan Olawale F. Olaniyan is a (volunteer) researcher with the International Trypanotolerance Centre and has over seven years of experience in agricultural...

FEX: The danger of interpreting anthropometric data out of context

Mark Myatt is a consultant epidemiologist and senior research fellow at the Institute of Ophthalmology. His areas of expertise are infectious disease, nutrition and survey...

FEX: Strengthening analysis of the nutrition situation through linking food security and nutrition information: Pitfalls and potentials

By Claire Chastre and Sonya le Jeune Claire Chastre is the SC(UK) Regional Food Security Adviser based in Nairobi. Sonya le Jeune is the SC(UK) Food Security Programme...

FEX: Improving food security and addressing nutrition of vulnerable farming communities affected by conflict and natural disaster in mid-western Nepal

By Guido Agostinucci Guido Agostinucci is an agronomist who collaborated with the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Viterbo and worked as consultant with FAO since...

FEX: Scurvy outbreak among South Sudanese adolescents and young men – Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya, 2017-2018

View this article as a pdf Read the postscript to this article here. Summary of research1 Location: Kenya What we know: Refugee populations dependent on food assistance are...

FEX: Nutrition-sensitive outcomes of a permaculture project in Nepal

View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici By Anne-Marie Mayer Anne Marie Mayer is a freelance nutritionist specialising in the links between...

FEX: An overview of REST’s implementation of the Productive Safety Net Programme

By The Relief Society of Tigray (REST) Mekelle Team The Relief Society of Tigray (REST) has been in existence in Ethiopia for over 30 years, starting out as a relatively small...

FEX: Policy lessons from Malawi

Summary of report1 In May 2002, ActionAid commissioned a piece of field research as a contribution to the debate in Malawi about the ongoing food crisis. The research aimed to...

FEX: History of nutritional status and Concern’s response in Dessie Zuria woreda, Ethiopia

By Sarah Style Sarah graduated with a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2009. She recently returned from Ethiopia...

FEX: Review of Integrated Food Security Programme in Malawi

Summary of published review1 Areview of an Integrated Food Security Programme (IFSP), implemented by GTZ2 in Malawi from 1997 to 2004, has recently been published by Tufts...

FEX: The potential of nutrition-sensitive Conservation Agriculture: lessons from Zambia

By Anne Marie Mayer, Marjolein-Mwanamwenge and Carl Whal Anne Marie Mayer works as a freelance nutritionist specialising in the links between agriculture and nutrition. She...


Reference this page

Dynamics of livelihood diversification in post-famine Ethiopia. Field Exchange 17, November 2002. p10.



Download to a citation manager

The below files can be imported into your preferred reference management tool, most tools will allow you to manually import the RIS file. Endnote may required a specific filter file to be used.