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Exploring seasonal poverty traps: the 'six-week window' in Southern Malawi

By Alastair Orr, Blessings Mwale and Donata Saiti-Chitsonga


Conventional wisdom in Malawi holds that seasonal food deficits force smallholders to hire out their labour to buy food during the critical first six weeks after planting, thereby reducing maize yields on their own fields and reinforcing poverty. This model was tested empirically for the Blantyre Shire Highlands using evidence from a panel survey and household case studies. Results showed no significant relationship between the supply of hired labour (ganyu) and the timeliness of weeding for maize, and that timely weeding was not a significant determinant of household maize deficits. This puzzle is explained by the diversification of the rural economy that has allowed households to develop alternative livelihood strategies to cope with maize deficits. Livelihood diversity helped poor households avoid the seasonal poverty trap and also helps explain the paradox of why the poorest region in Malawi escaped the 2001–2002 famine

Topics: S1, SB
Publisher: Routledge / Taylor & Francis
Year: 2009
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