Social institutions and access to resources
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For over a decade African economies have been plagued by recurrent food shortages, economic decline and growing disparities between the living standards of rich and poor. A further dimension of the agrarian crisis in recent years has been the extreme volatility of both agro-climatic and politico-economic conditions facing agricultural producers and rural households. The present article describes some of the strategies which farmers have used to cope with the crisis, and explores their implications for agricultural performance. People's ability to generate a livelihood or increase their assets depends on their access to productive resources and their ability to control and use resources effectively. Access depends, in turn, on participation in a variety of social institutions, as well as on material wealth and market transactions. One objective of this paper is to examine some of the ways in which institutions have served as channels of access to productive resources; have shaped strategies of agricultural production and investment; and have been affected, in turn, by farmers' patterns of resource use. A second issue to be addressed is the extent to which the increasing instability of economic, political and environmental conditions in recent years has reinforced or altered on-going processes of resource access and resource use. Like farmers anywhere, Africans have responded to instability and economic decline by economizing and, at the same time, attempting to diversify their options. The particular forms of these activities have, however, reflected specifically African conditions-including the role of social institutions in processes of access and control- and may, in turn, have contributed to the intractability of the agrarian crisis itself.