University of Michigan (Livelihoods)

School of Public Health, University of Michigan

Developing an innovative approach to measuring the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and testing critical linkages from farmer livelihoods to nutrition


PI: Andrew Jones (University of Michigan)

Collaborators: Jennifer Blesh (University of Michigan)
Andrew Dillon (Michigan State University)
Innovations for Poverty Action

Duration: 28 months (from 1 September 2015)

Value: £225,104

Countries of research: Burkina Faso

Summary of the project:

Knowledge gaps

Much of the current empirical literature examining the impacts of agriculture on nutrition outcomes has not assessed the most salient mechanisms by which agriculture will likely impact nutrition outcomes in the next 30 years. There is a critical need to adequately conceptualise and measure the diverse and rapidly evolving livelihood strategies of smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries, and understand the extent to which these livelihood strategies influence the diets and nutrition outcomes of the most vulnerable members of farming households. One of the main challenges to rigorously assessing the dynamic linkages between agriculture and nutrition is the difficulty in obtaining sufficiently comprehensive data to examine the multiple dimensions of farmer livelihoods that may influence diet and nutrition outcomes. Cross-country analyses of agriculture and nutrition relationships, and even comparisons of studies within countries, often rely on data collected using different survey design methods, which may bias estimates of agricultural production and livelihood characteristics, and the associations between these characteristics and nutrition outcomes.

Proposed approach

Our proposed research leverages the expertise of an interdisciplinary team of investigators from the fields of nutritional science, agricultural economics, agroecology, and rural development, to develop a nutrition-sensitive metric for assessing the rapidly evolving livelihoods of farmers, and examining the dynamic linkages between agriculture and nutrition. Our team will also assess the effect of agricultural survey design on estimates of farmer livelihood characteristics, and the associations of these characteristics with nutrition outcomes. 

We will combine analysis of new, nationally representative data from Burkina Faso on the agricultural production, livelihoods, consumption, and nutritional status of farming households, with primary data collection as part of a methodological cluster-randomised trial from a unique sample of households engaged in agriculture across diverse regions of Burkina Faso.

New metric of smallholder farmer livelihoods

We propose to develop an integrated, nutrition-sensitive metric of smallholder farmer livelihoods and apply a rigorous, randomised trial methodology to assess the effect of agricultural survey design on the measurement of farmer livelihood characteristics relevant to the assessment of agriculture and nutrition linkages.

We expect that the successful completion of this research will not only address the critical scientific need to understand how to conceptualise and measure the livelihood strategies of smallholder farmers, and assess their impact on nutrition, but will also have significant development relevance by informing nutrition-sensitive programmes and policies with rigorous empirical evidence on those agricultural livelihood factors most important for leveraging nutrition improvements. We expect that our testing of alternative survey design approaches will contribute to improvements in survey instruments that are comparable across contexts, that reduce implementation costs, and that allow for more widespread collection of integrated data sets to answer policy-relevant questions on the agriculture-nutrition nexus.