Risk aversion, cooperative membership, and path dependences of smallholder farmers in Ethiopia
SourceReview of Development Economics, 24, 1, (2020), pp. 167-187
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ RSCR CAOS
Review of Development Economics
SubjectAnthropology and Development Studies
Smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa often mitigate production risks through cooperative membership: institutionalized arrangements where they pool resources and collectively manage production and marketing chains. Cooperative membership has a significant advantage: it cushions detrimental effects of external forces, placing a premium on a risk-seeking attitude (experimenting and innovating), which can yield greater accumulation. However, cooperatives are self-selective institutions: relatively better-endowed farmers, who are usually less risk-avoidant than poorer ones (a consequence of their broader material bases), tend to be overrepresented. These two realities complicate the causal assessment of the relationships between risk attitudes, farmers' socioeconomic status, and cooperative membership that is essential to comprehend the role of cooperatives in local capital accumulation. To help resolve this thorny analytical problem, an experimental study was carried out in eastern Ethiopia-a risky production environment where cooperatives feature prominently and relatively affluent farmers exist alongside poorer ones. It unveils the working of specific path dependences: poorer cooperative members are less risk seeking than nonmembers, but at an interval much less than that observed for affluent farmers. For development policies, this suggests that a greater payoff can be expected from investing in farmers' material bases than from further improving cooperative membership.
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