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Agrarian Households in Semi-Arid Tropics

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Approximately 165 million people, about a fifth of the world’s poor, are known to live in resource-scarce, agrarian households and are called “smallholders,” living in rain-fed, semi-arid, tropical areas (SATs). Uncertainty of livelihoods in SATs is higher than in other areas of intensive farming, with short bursts of intense rainfall, high soil erosion, and cycles of drought. This paper identifies which interventions succeed most in preserving smallholders’ household wealth: (a) livestock intervention, (b) a soil and water conservation intervention and (c) an employment guarantee scheme that allows households a fixed income during droughts. It reports that livestock management and soil and water conservation have a minimal impact on asset holdings, while the employment guarantee scheme provides substantial asset protection throughout the lifetime of these households. However, the livestock intervention is the most cost-effective intervention.