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Northwestern University

Publication Date

Spring 2012

Program Name

Madagascar: National Identity and Social Change


This independent research project is a case study of subsistence farmers’ agricultural and economic activities in Betafo, a district in the Vakinankaratra region of Madagascar. The project focuses on the various manners in which individual farming families engage in local market activity, and the impact of such activities on their socioeconomic livelihoods. Through a three-week ethnographic study involving in-depth interviews, participant observation, and site visits, the researcher gathered primary data from subsistence farmers in multiple villages of Betafo, as well as district officials and representatives of community organization.

The results of the research indicate that commercial agriculture and subsistence agriculture are quite interrelated, such that economic activity is a means of basic survival. Market participation is largely unregulated by government institutions and community organizations, and that transactions between individual farmers and their buyers are completed on a relatively informal, unfixed basis. Subsistence farmers’ market participation is largely influenced by external factors such as collectors and large businesses, who generally determine product prices and therefore directly impact farmers’ ability to generate revenue and meet their family’s needs. Farmers’ agricultural and economic activities are highly diverse; the crops and livestock that are grown and sold depend on factors such as soil conditions, time of year, and availability of land. Regardless of specific agricultural activities, however, rice cultivation and consumption is universally the central element of farmers’ livelihoods, and the alimentary need for rice is essentially the driving force for agricultural and economic decisions.


Agriculture | Civic and Community Engagement | Family, Life Course, and Society | Sustainability


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