Improving tons per hectare and the nutritive value of food are key to increasing food security in the Dry Areas. But they are just one component. If improved livelihoods is the goal then agricultural and socio-economic research needs to look beyond the paradigm of keeping the farmer and small community producing food for subsistence only.
They should consider approaches to increasing income using a package of approaches where the farmer might grow high-value crops that generate income to purchase food, education, health care and the other components that contribute towards ‘improved livelihoods.’
After all, if you have more dollars in your pocket, even if you have not got home-grown food, you can buy it from your local or wider economy. You become an economic player and move beyond the subsistence level. Often, increased family income is spent on the education of the children, especially by mothers on their daughters – who are often traditionally doubly disadvantaged in marginal farming areas.
Thus, building sustainable production systems that bolster livelihood resilience can improve the situation of women, youth, and other disadvantaged groups, allowing them to reach their personal potential.
Agro-ecosystem approaches to future farming recognize the urgent need to engage the world’s rural, non-farm economy in positive ways. Off-farm activities can have both a push and pull effect on farming communities and practices: local populations, needing to be fed, drop as members leave for part of the time to non-agricultural employment. Outside remittances provide cash that can be used to introduce and promote new technologies on-farm.
Development economists have long recognized that agricultural advances play a central role in fostering development in the rest of the economy through a complex series of linkages. Farming also plays a predominant role in influencing the size and structure of the rural non-farm economy; by providing a market for agricultural inputs and consumer goods and services – and reducing the price – of food in the non-farm economy. Knowing how to balance these multiple aspects to rural existence, however, is complex.