WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2012: Rural Development and the Sustainable
What is a peasant?
In the classic situation, the dominant economic activity is smallholder
farming (crops, livestock). Access to land is the basis for their
livelihood (tenure and property rights are very important). Despite this
you can also apply it to people who don’t have livelihood based on
their own land-- like fishermen, pastoralists, etc.
They have one foot in the market, the other in subsistence (invested in
their own lives, and market. They are not excluded from the global
o They don’t define the prices of their goods.
Households are characterized by pluri-activity - diversity of activities
within and between households (ex. not just growing one crop—in
Laos, they grow rice, tree crops, pigs, cows, buffalos, etc.)
Varied ways of gaining income:
o Cash from sales of crops and in-kind income (what they produce
for themselves they don’t have to due.
o Ellis defines 3 kinds of livelihood activities/sources of income:
farm products (agriculture), off farm income (income gained not
from your land, like selling labor to a neighbouring famer. It is
still farming, but not your own farm—could come from common
property resources), non farm (having a store in the village,
driving a taxi, remittances, etc.)
The household is a unit of production and consumption (both a family
and an enterprise). There is a trade-off—what do you sell and what do
you keep? Family and household are a defining characteristic,
although some people do hire other farmers from the community.
Access to financial capital and capital equipment is often limited.
Tractors, agricultural inputs, etc. are difficult to access (they could have
to rent them). Access to financial capital can be gained through
financial lenders, middlemen, etc. but the terms of loans are rarely
favourable to the farmer.
They are considered to be marginal/subordinate (this means the
surplus production is extracted— if they produce crops, because of
imperfect markers they sell goods for lower prices than the going
They have thick social networks—community social capital and
relations between farmers and community members are very important. Webs of mutual assistance, kinship, labor exchange
networks, etc. are very important. They are important for food
sharing, access to capital, etc.
Ellis defines peasants as people who “derive their livelihoods from
agriculture, utilize family labor, and are characterized by partial
engagement in markets which are often imperfect or incomplete.”
o A lot of these ideas can be applied to other rural producers.
1. Efficiency: What is the best use of limited resources? Often there are more
resources than capital, so an example of making a decision based on this
would be using more labour intensive than capital intensive methods (ex. lots
of people working in the field as opposed to using herbicides, which you
would have to pay for). They also make decisions about substitutions (ex.
using less labour and buying herbicide), but there are trade offs with different
methods and options.
2. Risk aversion: There is a emphasis on subsistence security vs. high
productivity. Peasants are risk averse, because they are a unit of consumption
and production, if their crop doesn’t grow well they risk not meeting
subsistence. For example, they wouldn’t want to grow a new high-yield
variant that doesn’t grow well in a drought, they would choose the crop that
can grow in any conditions even if the yield and the payoff is much smaller.
If they do take risks, they are calculated, and will move them into a
higher income bracket (ex. farmers in Laos)
3. Drudgery aversion: people prefer not to work on tasks that are difficult (ex. no
one wants to weed). If people can manage their resources so it is less work,
4. Characterized by seasonal labor constraints: There are times when everyone
is planting or everyone is harvesting and labour is scarce, but there will be
other times when there is less to do and people are available.
This is important if working on a development project, particularly if
you are using a participatory approach, because people won’t
necessarily be available if you don’t consider the agricultural calendar.
5. Desire to improve well being and help next generation
What is a Community?
The romantic idea of rural villages being unified and cooperative is
incorrect because not every community is a completely homogenous
unit. There are divisions based on social differences (like class, wealth,
ethnicity, power, ethnic group could have different access to resources), and not everyone has the same interests (ex. the people
who grow rubber trees may not like the people who raise cattle
because the cattle get into the trees and hurt the crops). Demographic
differences also matter—for example a household with young children
has less labour to work with and needs to set aside more time to take
care of the children, so they will naturally have different interests.
What is a household?
A household is also not uniform—you can’t assume resources are
distributed equally among the members. The conventional idea is that
it is a unit of decision making and co-residence, but it is divided by
gender (women may not have the same access to resources, there is a
division of labour that influences interests), by age, by power relations
within the community, different decision making power.
The idea of households being spatially bound is also problematic,
because people have kinship ties outside their home—ex. people could
share food with extended family next door. Certain people in the
household could be working elsewhere and sending money back
(migrant workers, working in the city) so resources could be outside
the home as well.
Sustainable Livelihood Framework (currently being used in many rural
development programs to better understand development):
According to Ellis: “A livelihood comprises the assets, the activities, and
the access to these (mediated by social relations) that together
determine the living gained by the individual or household.”
Basically, it is how people make a living.
It is about the 3 As: Assets, Access, and Activities.
It can be used at different scales: at the household scale, a particular
gender in the household, an individual, at the community level, etc.
It all feeds back into the assets people have—it isn’t just linear.
Types of Ass