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Tracing Improving Livelihoods in Rural Africa Using Local Measures of Wealth: A Case Study from Central Tanzania, 1991–2016

Östberg, Wilhelm; Howland, Olivia; Mduma, Joseph; Brockington, Dan


Wilhelm Östberg

Joseph Mduma

Dan Brockington


We studied livelihood changes and poverty dynamics over a 25-year period in two villages in central Tanzania. The villages were, from the early 1990s and 2000s, strikingly poor with between 50% and 55% of families in the poorest wealth groups. 25 years later much has changed: people have become substantially wealthier, with 64% and 71% in the middle wealth groups. The new wealth had been generated locally, from farming, particularly of sunflowers as a cash crop. This goes against a conventional view of small-scale farming in Tanzania as being stagnant or unproductive. The area of land farmed per family has increased, almost doubling in one village. People have made money, which they invest in mechanised farming, improved housing, education of their children, livestock, and consumer goods. Improved infrastructure and local entrepreneurs have played key roles in the area’s transformation. Locally identified wealth rankings showed that most villagers, those in the middle wealth groups and above, can now support themselves from their land, which is a notable change to a time when 71% and 82% in each village respectively depended on casual labour for their survival. This change has come at a cost to the environment. By 2016, the village forests have largely gone and been replaced by farms. Farmers were concerned that the climate was turning drier because of deforestation. Studying the mundane—the material used in roofs, the size of farms, and so on made it possible to trace and understand the radical transition the area has experienced.


Östberg, W., Howland, O., Mduma, J., & Brockington, D. (2018). Tracing Improving Livelihoods in Rural Africa Using Local Measures of Wealth: A Case Study from Central Tanzania, 1991–2016. Land, 7(2), Article 44.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 27, 2018
Online Publication Date Apr 10, 2018
Publication Date 2018-06
Deposit Date Jan 8, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jan 18, 2023
Journal Land
Publisher MDPI
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 7
Issue 2
Article Number 44
Keywords Longitudinal studies; assets; livelihoods; rural entrepreneurs; Tanzania
Public URL
Publisher URL


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