Title: Livelihood, food security and diversity in limited resources, landed households
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00094288/00001
 Material Information
Title: Livelihood, food security and diversity in limited resources, landed households
Physical Description: 15 leaves : ill. ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Hildebrand, Peter E.
Sullivan, Amy J.
University of Florida -- Food and Resource Economics Dept
Publisher: Food and Resource Economics Dept., University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2001
Copyright Date: 2001
Subject: Agriculture -- Research -- On-farm -- Developing countries   ( lcsh )
Agricultural innovations -- Research   ( lcsh )
Agricultural systems -- Research   ( lcsh )
Agricultural extension work -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: United States of America -- Florida
Developming countries
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (leaves 14-15).
General Note: Caption title.
General Note: Typescript.
Statement of Responsibility: Peter E. Hildebrand and Amy J. Sullivan.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00094288
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 434080373

Full Text


Peter E. Hildebrand and Amy J. Sullivan

Food and Resource Economics Department
University of Florida
Gainesville FL 32611-0240
2001 Peter E. Hildebrand


Peter E. Hildebrand and Amy J. Sullivan

Yet it is clear that within the limits of the next decade peasant
labor farms will, nevertheless remain an unalterable fact in
numerous countries, including the U.S.S.R. We who are concerned
with the practice of agriculture must construct its future forms
from the existing forms of peasant farming; therefore, we are, in
practice, concerned with the deepest possible study of the
peasant farm. A.V. Chayanov, 1925

Most of those who are today seeking to understand the
economic behavior of the peasantry seem to be unaware that they
are traversing much the same ground trod from the 1860s onward by
several generations of Russian economists. D. Thorner, 1966

Understanding the system is important for identifying problems.
It is even more important for shaping solutions.
Michael Collinson, 1998

As we begin the third millennium, nearly a century and a half from the

time Russian economists began studying peasant farms, we still appear at a

loss as to how these farms function, remaining on the edge of poverty and

struggling for food security, yet continuing to survive. The only

explanation is that we have not made a concerted effort to really try to

understand these farms even though they have been and continue to be one of

the most important single sectors in most countries of the world, and,

perhaps, in the entire world. In 1936, Whittlesey (quoted in Mosher, 1969)

estimated that "subsistence farms" supported about 60% of humankind (about

1.6 billion people). Wharton (1969) estimated (presumably in the mid 1960s)

that subsistence farms covered some 40% of the cultivated land of the world

and supported 50-60% of humankind. While the number of subsistence farms

today is not well estimated, various estimates still place it between one and

two billion. According to the UN's International Fund for Agricultural

Development (IFAD), in the year 2000, 75% of the world's 1.2 billion

"extremely poor" are rural. This accounts for about 900 million people who

are the poorest segment of limited resource rural households. If these

"extremely poor" were half to two-thirds of the limited resource rural

households in the world, this would mean between 1.35 and 1.8 billion people

are surviving in limited resource rural households. No matter the estimate,

these households are still a very important part of society and the food

production systems of the world.

Chayanov and other Russian economists recognized that the "deepest

possible study of the peasant farm" required a multidisciplinary approach.

Starting about mid way through the 20t century we abandoned a

multidisciplinary, whole farm perspective in favor of a highly specialized

and reductionist scientific approach to agricultural development. Commercial

crops were left to agronomists, animals to animal scientists, and forests to

foresters, few of whom understood people, while costs and returns were left

to economists, and peasants to anthropologists, few of whom understood


Over the last 15 to 20 years at the University of Florida a group of

faculty and their graduate students from several multidisciplinary programs

have been working together to modify the reductionist pattern. The impetus

for these activities was based in the Farming Systems, Agroforestry, and

Tropical Conservation and Development Programs. Participation has come from

such diverse disciplines as Agricultural Economics, Agronomy, Animal Science,

Anthropology, Forestry, Geography, Latin American Studies, Political Science,

Soil Science and Wildlife. Studies have been conducted in many countries,

mostly in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. While the specific nature

of each of the studies has been as diverse as the interests of the students

and faculty involved in them, because of the frequent interaction in country

and on campus of those involved, we became more and more aware of emerging

commonalities. First, virtually all the studies involved both natural

resources and the people who used them. We also began to realize that food

security and sustainable livelihoods were the primary concerns of most of the

people who were subjects of our research and for whom the "farm" was not just

a production unit, but first and foremost a home.

The use of averages and aggregated data by development agencies in

attempts to reach broadly adaptable solutions simply masks the nature of the

situations and conditions in which these smallholders produce or earn their

food and other necessities. In order to help solve the continuing scourge of

food insecurity in ever more fragile livelihood systems in the world, the

tremendous diversity in which smallholders produce food for a significant

portion of the world's population must be taken directly into account. As we

have begun to analyze the impact of the dynamics of family development and

associated very diverse changes in household composition, we have been able

to see that averaging these even for a community shifts family development to

conditions of lower stress (more food secure) than most households actually

exhibit. Conclusions based on these lower stress, composite households will

inevitably distort reality and lead to unanticipated and undesirable results.

Smallholders and Food Security

Food insecurity (in its simplest form: not always being able to count

on having enough food to meet locally acceptable levels of consumption)

results from various factors that differentially affect diverse groups of

both rural and urban people. In order to analyze food security issues, and

to make sensible recommendations to alleviate food insecurity, it is

necessary first to define the category being addressed. Distinguishable

categories of potentially food insecure include 1) urban poor, 2) rural

landless, and 3) rural people with access to land, either as farmers

(including both crop and livestock products) or as extractivists. For our

purposes, access to bodies of water for fishing is considered as being

landed. Within the third category, which is the group of interest to us

here, are three sub types of households that must be distinguished: 1) those

whose resources at any moment in time generally allow them to produce a

surplus beyond socially acceptable minimum livelihood and food security

levels; 2) those whose resources at any point in time generally or always are

insufficient to allow them to reach socially acceptable minimum livelihood

and food security levels and therefore suffer chronic shortages (probably

being the "extremely poor" in the IFAD report); and 3) an intermediate type

on the margin between sufficiency and insufficiency of resources. These are

not permanent categories-households can and do move from one to another as

they pass through different stages in their lives. Unfortunately, no good

data exist on the relative numbers of people or households usually found in

each of the three rural, landed categories (Barbara Huddleston, FAO, personal

communication). Nevertheless, there is certainly a large number of non-urban

households in the categories to be addressed. Beyond this designation, no

further effort will be expended on defining the target sectors, but it is

certain that they are the same as the group defined by the Russians as


Poverty Proliferates Poverty

Even for the landed poor households who in their stage in life have the

resources generally, but not always, to achieve socially acceptable minimum

levels of livelihood, poverty proliferates poverty. Three factors exacerbate

the effect of the vortex that draws these poor into increasing poverty and

food insecurity. One is the need to produce many of the diverse things

needed for their livelihoods from their own resources even when specialized

production could increase the overall value or volume of their efforts.

Second, the inescapable need for cash for necessities not produced on the

farm, and often at specific times of the year, forces these people to direct

their resource use into activities that meet this need even if it reduces the

household's overall value or quantity of production. Third, in households

with many mouths to feed and the least amount of labor available (as with

young families with several young children), the household requires the most

nutritionally dense, and therefore most expensive diet, in terms of cash or

resource use. Later in life, when such households have adolescent children

they often move into a phase of relative abundance and low stress, and

relative food security, particularly if the older adolescents help in

production activities or free adult labor from reproduction activities so

they can participate in production tasks. Unfortunately, when households in

a community are averaged, the average family inevitably has adolescent

children so therefore does not reflect the high stress situation.

Specialization Versus Diversification

In commercial, family agriculture (that is, capitalized but not

industrialized agriculture) most efficient resource use, and therefore

highest profits are normally achieved by combining two or more activities in

the farm operation. Economists demonstrate this using what is called a

Production Possibilities Curve, Figure 1. When two enterprises (activities)

are combined on a relatively well-endowed family farm with abundant

resources, the opportunities curve bows away from the origin so the greatest

revenue obtainable from the resources of the farm is achieved with a

combination of the two enterprises. In Figure 1, by producing approximately

260 units of Product 1 and 380 units of Product 2, the combined value of the

two products would be approximately $820 if the price of Product 1 were $1.42

and the price of Product 2 were $1.00. This may reflect the case of the

consistent surplus category farmers above. Farmers in this category often

allocate their resources to the combination of enterprises that bring them

the greatest revenue. Food production is of secondary importance and some or

all is purchased with the income generated from the sale of products.

Production Possibilities
Abundant and Scarce Resource Farms
500 - ...- ..... .....
400 .. ...
S. Abund
S 300 .......
200 . Scarce

0 100 200 300 400 500
Product 2

Figure 1. Production possibilities curves and revenue lines

For farmers on the margin of food security, a number of factors

influence the nature of the production possibilities curves shown in Figure

1. The result can be the exact opposite of farmers in better resource

situations. To the extent that these farmers have access only to lower

quality resources (for example, steeplands as opposed to valleys), their

production functions shift downward, resulting in less product for the same

amount of input. Also, more of the resources on marginal farms are fixed in

quantity at the farm level (cannot be purchased, so cannot vary in quantity).

This means that as more enterprises or activities are undertaken, each of

them receives a smaller proportion of such scarce resources as manure, family

labor or management time, further reducing the level of productivity.i This

can result in an opportunities curve that bows toward the origin. In this

situation, the farmers would be better off (able to achieve more value from

their resources) by specializing in one enterprise rather than in

diversifying into two or more. For the same prices, the farmer with scarce

resources would be able to achieve more value (value of crop production would

be approximately $325) by producing only Product 2, Figure 1. But for these

farmers, food security and therefore food production is of primary

importance. To specialize, they would have to depend on the market, other

infrastructure such as transportation, a government that would assure them

relative stability, and confidence that they could sell their products and

purchase the quantity and quality of food they needed when they needed it and

for a reasonable price. Most of these conditions are missing for the

marginally food secure families considered here. For this reason, they are

virtually forced into enterprise diversification in order to assure

themselves an adequate diet. If the resource-restricted farmer illustrated

in Figure 1 needed at least 50 units of Product 1, then the shift of

resources from Product 2 would reduce production of Product 2 to about 175

units and the value of crop production would be only about $220. Thus,

forced diversification to achieve a nutritionally adequate diet for farmers

with a production possibilities curve that bows toward the origin means that

the combined value or quantity of crop and animal production they can achieve

is lower than otherwise might be possible. Thus, poverty proliferates

poverty. This effect is seen in most of the cases studied.

i A more complete explanation is in: Hildebrand, 1986.

The Need for Cash

Not all these households' food nor other of life's necessities are

acquired directly by production or extraction. Virtually all households in

the world at the end of the 20th Century require cash for such necessities.

(Chayanov recognized this need among the Russian peasants at the beginning of

the 20th Century.) This need further complicates the livelihood strategies

of farmers who are only marginally food secure. In some cases, cash

producing activities such as Brazil nut gathering in the Amazon must be

undertaken even if this activity competes with food production and produces

relatively little cash. These cash producing activities can take the form of

extraction, off farm work, hunting or fishing, or the production of something

like tobacco that cannot be used for food. Many sources of cash are from

non-traditional activities such as eco-tourism or previously unknown crops,

and shifts in labor demands among household members to carry out these non-

traditional activities can create additional burdens on certain members of

the household and reduce further the productivity of traditional food

sources. Again, poverty proliferates poverty.

Family Development and Household Composition

Among many other factors affecting food security of landed, rural

households is household composition. The following stylized figures are a

way to visualize the impact of these factors on food security. Consider a

couple just setting up a nuclear family household (in year zero). For a

short time, both husband and wife can work in production, or food and cash

acquiring activities, because the wife has a relatively limited number of

household duties without children. There are two mouths to feed and two

workers in the household to contribute to production activities and food

acquisition. However, as soon as the woman has a child, her duties shift

noticeably and she must spend more time in the home attending reproduction

activities. Thus, at the same time that the number of mouths to feed

increases, the work force available for production activities decreases

(Figure 2).

0 5 10 15 20 25
Years in Life Stage
-- Family Size Workers
-- Rel Nut Dens Req'd

Figure 2. Factors affecting production and consumption

Young children require a diet that has a higher nutrient density

(nutrients per kilogram dry weight) than adults (Figure 2). That is,

children require more proteins, minerals and vitamins per kilo of food eaten.

A diet rich in these nutrients (meat, milk, legumes) requires more labor

and/or more cash (either for inputs or purchased from the market) to acquire.

This means that even more effort must be put into the family food budget,

Figure 3, during the years when the woman must spend more time in

reproduction activities so less total labor is available to the household for

food production activities. One way of showing this food budget is by adding

nutrient density to number of people in the family, Figure 3.

Factors Affecting Food Security


. 6......... ..... -- .... .


2 ..

....... .~.....

Factors Affecting Food Security


12 -

8 .. -----...... . .---

0 5 10 15 20 25
Years in Life Stage
e Family Size Workers
.-- Rel Nut Dens Req'd -e Food Budget

Figure 3. Food budget

The combined effects of an increasing number of mouths to feed,

increased nutrient density required in the diet, and reduced number of

workers in production activities, puts a great deal of stress on the

household during the first ten or so years of family development, Figure 4.

Figure 4.

Household food security stress related to life stage.

Stress here is measured as food budget index divided by the index of the

number of workers available for production activities and is similar in

concept to Chayanov's consumer-worker ratio. Stress is very low until the

Factors Affecting Food Security

205 -- ------

0 5 10 15 20 25
Years In UIf L l age---
-- Family Size Workers
-. Rel Nut Dens Req'd --. Food Budget
SStress on Household

first child is born. It peaks when there are a number of small children in

the household and only the two parents available for reproduction and

production activities. This can shift a household from food secure to food

insecure. Stress again declines as the oldest children begin to take on some

of the production and/or reproduction activities. Thus, the household can

shift again, from food insecure to food secure.

A number of factors can have a marked influence on these stylized

curves and may be variable for different cultures. For instance, if another

adult joins the household, many of the curves shift markedly. If the adult

is male, it usually affects the number of workers for production activities

as well as the number of mouths to feed. However, the relative shift in

production resources is probably greater than the shift in consumption

requirements. Also, the relative nutrient density of the diet shifts

downward. All these factors shift the stress curve downward at the point

when the adult enters the household. If the new adult is female, shifts

ordinarily will be distributed differently than if the adult were male. Also,

if the labor resource of the first child to reach adolescence is used to

enhance production activities, this can reduce the amount of stress and

enhance the recovery into a low stress phase, particularly if the male

adolescents help the father and the female adolescents help the mother.

While these figures are based on generalized situation, it is clear that in

high stress household compositions, poverty proliferates poverty.

Potential for Aggregate Analysis

Frustrating national and donor attempts to alleviate food insecurity

for these categories of households is their tremendous diversity-a necessary

strategy for these same households. The major donors and their food security

programs desire broad solutions, felt necessary for reasons of efficiency.

Almost universally this translates into the use of data averaged across a

community, watershed, county, region or even country. The same people who

advocate and understand the need for conservation of bio-diversity as a

critical component for sustainability often ignore livelihood diversity

across communities, watersheds, counties, regions or countries. The problem

related to a search for potential solutions to food insecurity is that an

"average" household of two adults and three children aged 7, 11 and 15, for

example, reflects the household composition of few, if any households in that

community. Based on Figure 4, the average household described above would be

coming out of the high stress phase and have resources available to consider

new options. They may have resources available, for example, to consider an

agroforestry program with fruit trees that might not come into production for

three or more years. Their discount rate for longer term potential income

may be sufficiently low, compared to a high stress household, that they view

favorably the use of current resources to provide for a higher level of

living in the foreseeable future. Using the average household as a basis for

making project decisions may lead to frustration on the part of the donors.

Likewise, using households that have recently moved out of the high stress

phase as examples of successful projects seriously overstates the impact such

programs have.

All of the factors described above can be incorporated in a linear

programming analysis of food security and many of the cases in our research

use this method of analysis. Seasonality of food and cash needs, and

household composition are the drivers of the livelihood strategies of these

categories of rural, landed households. Members of these households choose

their livelihood strategies to attempt to satisfy seasonal food and cash

needs within the constraints of the resources they have available to them.

By using linear programming models of livelihood systems, various

household compositions easily can be incorporated in an aggregate model

reflecting, for example, a community, that also can be aggregated to a larger

scale. But the larger scale can also reflect the diversity at the lower

scale so that technologies, projects and policies can be tailored for each of

the household types at the community level.

Ethnographic and Participatory Linear Programming

Our methodology is based upon recognizing and understanding the

structure of complex, local livelihood systems and the diverse

strategies of different households. This recognition and

understanding comes from:

Going to the field;

Using ethnographic and participatory methods and tools for data


Creating models that define existing livelihood systems;

Simulating the strategies of diverse households within a given

livelihood system;

Testing alternatives (e.g., technology or policy); and

Formulating responses and recommendations.

Recognition and understanding of diversity in limited resource

households depends on examining them from the appropriate point of

view, and choosing the appropriate level of analysis.

The appropriate point of view is that of an insider.

The appropriate level of analysis is the livelihood system.

Livelihood systems are the appropriate level of examination because

they naturally differentiate diversity by:




Accessibility to technology (e.g., tractors, irrigation).

These kinds of factors can impose a particular livelihood system on a

a group of households by governing, dictating or modifying the full

range of activities (crop and livestock production, crafts, off-farm

work, remittances, etc.) available to the individuals in the

households to contribute to its survival and well being. When the

livelihood system to be modeled has been selected, diverse kinds of

household composition subject to the system are included in linear

programming analyses. These multiple evaluations then represent the

diversity of strategies found in the livelihood system. By weighting

the kinds of household compositions analyzed, an aggregation

representing all households in the system can be achieved.


Hildebrand, P.E. (Ed). 1986. Perspectives on farming systems research and

extension. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. Boulder.

Mosher, A.T. 1969. The development problems of subsistence farmers: A

preliminary review. Chap. 1 In: Wharton, Jr., C.R. (Ed). 1969. Subsistence

agriculture and economic development. Aldine, Chicago

Shanin, T. 1966. Chayanov's message: Illuminations, miscomprehensions, and

the contemporary "development theory." Forward In: Thorner, D., B. Kerblay

and R.E.F. Smith (Eds). 1966. A.V. Chayanov: The theory of peasant economy.

University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.

Thorner, D. 1966. Chayanov's concept of peasant economy. Chap 2 In:

Thorner, D., B. Kerblay and R.E.F. Smith (Eds). 1966. A.V. Chayanov: The

theory of peasant economy. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.

Wharton, Jr., C.R. (Ed). 1969. Subsistence agriculture and economic

development. Aldine, Chicago.

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