This study uses the sustainable livelihoods framework to analyze changes in livelihood strategies for 50 case-study households in the Blantyre Shire Highlands, southern Malawi, during 1990-2000. Although evidence from rapid rural appraisal (RRA) suggests that the poor are becoming poorer, the majority (56%) reported an improvement in their economic status. Improvement was linked to market liberalization through higher income from crops (burley tobacco, vegetables, grain legumes) and microenterprise. One-quarter of households were worse off. Downward economic mobility was attributable partly to market liberalization but also to the adverse consequences of widowhood or divorce for female-headed households. Monitoring livelihoods under adjustment requires a pluralist approach that relies not just on RRA but also on quantitative methods, household case studies, and insights from farming systems research. © 2001 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.
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