Agricultural Intensification and Sustainable Livelihoods in Tanzania

Project: Research project

Project Details


SCIENCE BACKGROUND AND GRADUATE RESEARCH PLANS Introduction Climate change poses new challenges for confronting and addressing global issues of poverty and food insecurity. Smallholder farmers are especially vulnerable to climate change because of their dependence on climate-sensitive activities, particularly agricultural and pastoral sectors. In many cases, the poor have adapted to variable conditions by diversifying their livelihood strategies. Diversification provides a strategy to enhance incomes, cope with interannual variability in production, and to buffer against economic and environmental shocks. In many tropical areas, forest products provide a means of diversification and offer an important safety-net function (1). As such, there is a need to understand the consequences of agriculturally driven deforestation for the vulnerability of smallholder farmers. This research examines this issue in central Tanzania, which is currently undergoing rapid agricultural development. Specifically, my research will focus on three questions: (1) What determines the use of forest resources as part of a livelihood strategy? (2) How and why are forests used to provide a safety-net function? (3) What will be the effects of agricultural expansion on the availability and access to forest resources? Background Human transformation of the Earths surface, through land use/cover change (LUCC), is a primary driver of changes in environmental processes from local to global scales (2). A growing body of research in the domain of land change science is concerned with characterizing the drivers and consequences of LUCC, and the implications of these processes for sustainable development (3, 4). This field of inquiry joins remote sensing, human, and environmental sciences to understand the coupled social-ecological system dynamics of land change and subsequent outcomes, such as vulnerability and sustainability (3). LUCC studies have extensively examined the drivers of deforestation in the tropics (5), but relatively few have considered the way that these changes may affect the adaptive capacity of rural communities (6). Nonetheless, efforts to understand the consequences of environmental change for vulnerability (7) provide useful frameworks to examine this problem. Vulnerability, defined as the likelihood that a human and/or environmental system will experience harm due to exposure to a shock (8), is a primary concern of sustainability science (9). Understanding the vulnerability of a system to a perturbation necessitates an understanding of the ability of a system to respond to a stress. This ability to respond to a stress is known as adaptive capacity and contributes to the resilience of a system, or its ability to withstand perturbations without undergoing a major change (10). For agricultural systems, Reilly (11) describes three specific types of vulnerability, sector vulnerability, regional economic vulnerability, and hunger vulnerability. While useful to disaggregate for conceptual purposes, these different types of vulnerability often overlap. For example, rural populations are often exposed to simultaneous processes of environmental change that affect growing conditions and macro-economic processes that affect the markets for their products also known as doubleexposure (12). Thus, it is important to understand how agricultural systems, specifically rural households, are able to cope with an array of stresses in the short term and to adapt to these changes over the longer term. At the local level, adaptive capacity of a community is determined Connors | 2 by an array of conditions spanning technology, political influence, financial resources, institutions, and kinship networks (13, 14). The sustainable livelihoods approach contributes to understanding of vulnerability through a focus on the specific resources and activities that people utilize to make a living (15). A livelihood is considered to be sustainable or resilient when it provides the ability to cope with, recover from, and adapt to stresses and shocks without compromising environmental integrity (16). Depending upon the specific contextual conditions and the resources available, individuals adopt a portfolio of livelihood strategies that contribute to social and environmental outcomes (17). Past research in Tanzania, for example, suggests that rural populations diversify their economic activities in response to a lack of access to land (18). In general, livelihood diversification appears to be an important strategy for increasing income and reducing vulnerability among the rural poor (19). My research will specifically consider the effects of agriculturally driven land cover change on the livelihood strategies and adaptive capacity of rural populations in Tanzania.
Effective start/end date12/1/139/30/14


  • US Agency for International Development (USAID): $15,000.00

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