Low agricultural productivity, land degradation and poverty are severe interrelated problems in the East African highlands. While the proximate causes of such problems are relatively well known, the underlying causes are many and complex, and depend upon many site-specific factors that vary greatly across the diverse circumstances of the region. Thus, no “one-size-fits-all” policy, institutional or technology strategy is likely to suffice to generate sustainable development. While common elements of successful strategies to exist, such as security and macroeconomic stability, the appropriate portfolio of investments in physical, human, natural and social capital will likely be different in different circumstances. In this paper, we argue that the appropriate strategy for sustainable development depends greatly upon the “pathways of development” that are feasible in a given location. Development pathways represent common patterns of change in economic livelihood strategies, such as continued semi-subsistence mixed crop-livestock production or commercialization of high-value perishable crops. We argue that such development pathways will be largely determined by three factors determining comparative advantage: agricultural potential, access to markets, and population density. Based on a typology of situations in the East African highlands using these variables, we develop hypotheses about the potential pathways of development in different situations, and the policy and institutional requisites to achieve sustainable development of such pathways. We also argue that the choice of development pathway largely conditions the opportunities for particular resource management technologies, and develop hypotheses about the technological strategies that may be feasible within particular development pathways. We conclude the paper with hypotheses about the priorities for policy intervention to achieve sustainable development in the East African highlands. Among these, we suggest that the highest priority for road and irrigation development should be areas close to urban markets with high agricultural potential; that development of input and output markets and credit systems will be most critical in such area; that increasing food security through increased food crop production or other means is likely to be a key to realizing the potential for more commercial production; that subsidies on the costs of transporting fertilizer to remote, high-potential, food deficit area should be considered as a lower cost alternative to food aid; and that intensified and more private use of hillsides and grazing areas for sustainable uses such as tree planting may have potential to achieve more rapid and sustainable development of lower potential areas. We emphasize that these are only hypotheses, and that policy research is needed to assess their validity in different contexts of the East African highlands.

Issue Date:
Publication Type:
Working or Discussion Paper
DOI and Other Identifiers:
Record Identifier:
PURL Identifier:
Total Pages:
Series Statement:
EPTD Discussion Paper 41

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2020-10-28

Download fulltext

Rate this document:

Rate this document:
(Not yet reviewed)