Sustainable rural livelihoods, a case study of Malawi

Kelly, Maxine (2000) Sustainable rural livelihoods, a case study of Malawi. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis complements and extends understanding of the contribution of new approaches to development to the goal of achieving sustainable rural livelihoods. This is achieved by critically evaluating the concepts of agricultural sustainability and rural livelihoods. This study examines the use and management of natural resources by smallholder farmers in central Malawi. Development interventions by PROSCARP, a development project running nationally in Malawi and funded by EU, within the case study area were evaluated. This thesis has focused on land degradation and critically evaluates the new participatory or bottom up development paradigm in light of large-scale project interventions for land husbandry. A multidisciplinary approach, utilising a range of qualitative and quantitative methods provided a sound empirical basis for assessing the complexities of rural poverty and development interventions. This thesis identified a wide range of interlinked rural problems and opportunities. This clearly indicates that a single issue, such as soil conservation, cannot be separated from other aspects of sustainable rural livelihoods. This thesis therefore argues, on the basis of empirical evidence, as well as a critical review of the literature, that agricultural sustainability must encompass all aspects of rural livelihoods. The response of farmers to development interventions is highest for technologies that directly cater to their needs or which are based on local knowledge and technologies. This thesis highlights the need to identify and target appropriate interventions for individual households. Analysis of livelihood strategies also revealed a wide diversity of income sources within the case study area. The potential for increasing agricultural production is limited by landholding size and the potential for farmers to further diversify their income or food sources should be investigated in more detail. The evidence from the literature shows that participatory development processes have achieved successes in small-scale projects. This research concludes that it is also possible incorporate and change the type of participation in a pre-existing large-scale project. The analyses in this thesis suggests that unless interactive participation or self-mobilisation is achieved there is a strong possibility that introduced technologies will not be sustained and the community may not feel the long-term benefits of the project. The main obstacle to achieving interactive participation in a large-scale project is the empowerment of the beneficiaries. Finally, in light of the results of this research a number of recommendations are discussed which include a suggested focus on individual households or marginalized groups within a community, and a clear strategy for passing control of the project to the beneficiaries to ensure long term benefits after project withdrawal.

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