Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Resilience and Sustainable Poverty Escapes in Rural Kenya

The USAID Center for Resilience commissioned the Overseas Development Institute, in conjunction with the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network (CPAN), to conduct research into resilience and poverty escapes in select Feed the Future focus countries. Specifically, this research examined why some households escape and remain out of poverty (sustainable poverty escape) while other households escape it only to fall back into poverty (transitory poverty escape) and still others descend into poverty for the first time (impoverishment). Building on research conducted through the Leveraging Economic Opportunity activity in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Uganda in 2016, the current body of research was aimed at expanding understanding of the drivers of sustained and transitory poverty escapes and teasing out policy and programming implications for USAID and other development actors.

The second in the series of resulting research reports focuses on rural Kenya, where transitory poverty escapes are a significant phenomenon. The report combines analysis from four rounds of 2000-2010 Tegemeo Agricultural Panel Survey with qualitative research approaches in two rural counties to investigate the drivers of transitory poverty escapes and reimpoverishment, as well as the resources, attributes and activities of households that enable them to escape poverty sustainably.

Key findings from the report include:

Household resource base

  • Accumulating land and livestock may no longer be a viable sustained escape pathway for the majority. Livestock are an important “store of value” for respondents in both counties surveyed but contextual factors (particularly the cost of feed, security and an absence of veterinary services) pose restrictions on rearing livestock as a business.
  • Land remains a valued asset, but households on all poverty trajectories are seeing reductions, over time, in the amount of land that they own. Small land sizes limit the role that land, and associated agricultural activities, can play in boosting well-being and sustaining poverty escapes.

Household attributes and capacities

  • Larger households are significantly more likely to experience a sustained escape. However, the composition of the household is also important.
  • Sustained and transitory poverty escapes are closely related to life cycle factors. Periods of lower well-being include young families paying school fees for their children as well as households headed by older individuals.
  • Surprisingly, households where the head is more educated are significantly more likely to experience a transitory poverty escape than a sustained escape.
  • Female headed households are significantly more likely to experience a transitory escape than to have a sustained escape from poverty.

Household activities

  • Households cultivating more acres of land with crops are more likely to become impoverished or to experience a transitory escape than a sustained escape. This may reflect the risks, related to both production and the market, associated with crop cultivation.
  • Meanwhile, households with more agricultural assets and closer to piped water are significantly more likely to experience a sustained escape than a transitory escape, suggesting that there are some necessary preconditions, beyond land, for engagement in crop agriculture to contribute to sustained poverty escapes.
  • Households that receive income from a business are significantly more likely to experience a transitory escape than a sustained escape. This is likely due to the inconsequential nature of many "businesses" that households engage in as well as the risks of engaging in business activities.
  • The quantitative data does not reveal a significant relationship between salaried employment and sustained poverty escapes. However, qualitative data highlights the importance of households having a regular salary for driving poverty escapes, with a job in the formal sector and its associated benefits as the surest route for a sustained escape.

Household shocks

  • Rainfed agriculture is an inherently risky venture, and this is likely to be the underlying reason why the panel data analysis shows that having more land under crops is significantly associated with transitory rather than sustained poverty escapes.
  • The predominant shocks arising during the life history interviews are health shocks.
  • Crime shocks were also identified as drivers of transitory escapes. While both male and female-headed households report to being victims of crimes, there is some evidence that female-headed households are more exposed to this type of shock.

Household strategies for sustained poverty escapes

  • Engaging in agriculture (crops and livestock) can maintain a household’s situation over time and lead to small improvements. However, agriculture alone is insufficient to lead to sustained poverty escapes.
  • Migration of men to urban centers for work, leaving behind their families, and the associated remittances is the most prevalent strategy for a sustained escape.
  • Education and the migration of adult children to urban centers are viewed as strategies to ensure well-being gains are protected in old age. However, this can place families into intergenerational cycles of poverty.

See the sidebar for the full report and its companion policy implication brief. Click here for the first in the case study series, Poverty Escapes in Nepal.