This study examines rural livelihood strategies and food security outcomes in the drought-prone Amhara Region of Ethiopia by focusing on Lay Gaint district as a case study site. Questionnaire survey, key informants interview and focus group discussions were employed to collect primary data. A total of 210 households were covered by the questionnaire survey, and the questionnaire covered issues related to household level asset ownership, crop and livestock production and engagement in non-farm and off-farm income sources in a mix of closed and open-ended questions. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used for data analysis and the later included descriptive statistics and regression modeling. A major finding is that despite the low level of productivity related to local environmental constraints, rural livelihoods remain undiversified with small scale rain-fed agriculture providing the primary source of livelihood for the large majority of sample households (~93% of respondents). Only about 25% of respondents participated in some form of non-farm or off-farm activities, but with only little contributions to their total annual incomes. The use of yield-enhancing agricultural inputs such as chemical fertilizers and improved seeds was extremely low, and this was attributed to the severe land degradation and rainfall variability in the area. Food insecurity is a chronic problem in that, on average, households in the study area consume from own production for only about six months. Improving food security of rural households in the study area requires integrated development interventions aimed at improved natural resources management and diversification of livelihood strategies including interventions to create non-farm employment opportunities.
Key words: Smallholder agriculture, food insecurity, livelihoods, Ethiopia.
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