Chapter 4: The Limits to Risk Coping
We have reviewed in great detail a variety of individual and collective strategies on which poor rural households rely to cope with risk. These strategies do not always work, however. In this chapter we examine some of the factors that render particular strategies ineﬀective. Evidence regarding the most serious constraints is also discussed. 4.1 4.1.1 THE LIMITS TO SELF-PROTECTION Technological and Environmental Constraints Technological and environmental constraints put limits on households’ ability to reduce their exposure to risk. Income diversiﬁcation may be impractical either because returns to alternative activities are too low to warrant investing in them, or because increasing returns call for specialization. Millet in the Sahel is a good example of a case in which environmental constraints limit the options open to rural households. After centuries of informal breeding by Sahelian farmers, millet has developed into an incredibly sturdy plant capable of growing extremely fast on precious little moisture and soil nutrients. Thanks to millet, African farmers have pushed the limits of cultivation further into the Sahara desert than was thought possible. The corollary of this success, however, is that no other plant can compete with millet, let alone beat it. As a result, the monoculture of millet is the norm in much of the Sahel (Matlon and Fafchamps 1989). Similar reasoning explains why drought or trypanosogmiasis resistant livestock breeds are the only ones encountered in drought or trypanosomiasis prone areas. Pastoralism is a good illustration of a situation in which income diversiﬁcation is traded...
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