Poor people’s livelihood strategies in coastal communities in Eastern Zanzibar

The diversity of natural resources, impact of globalization and the high prevalence of, multiple reasons for and complex manifestations of poverty make smallholder production and livelihoods in coastal areas an important area of research. Coastal and marine production regimes are characterized by low levels of technology and productivity, dependence on informal economic and social arrangements, recurrent exposure to economic vulnerability, as well as difficulties to predict the outcome of labour and other investments. Rural coastal dwellers typically combine elements of land-based and marine resources and activities, e.g. small-scale agriculture, sporadic tourism, fishing and collection of various foodstuffs in shallow waters, from trees and animal husbandry. The high influx of people to coastal settlements, increased competition for natural resources and paid employment opportunities, as well as exposure to the effects of climate change and other global processes and events such as the financial crisis and economic recession are some of the factors that drive the high incidences of multidimensional poverty in coastal areas.

A research focus on the coastal zone thus raises a number of issues that are central for our general understanding of rural life and livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa, e.g. the importance of experience-based knowledge and practice with regard to natural resources and processes, social relations of production (e.g. complex tenure regimes involving land, trees, intertidal waters and estuaries and a gender-based division of labour and control of resources), social capital and social cohesion, the workings and effects of power relations and social and gender inequalities, and the impact of globalization on e.g. fish stocks and agriculture (climate), and on investments, tourism, trade and migration.

Based on interactive fieldwork methodology, this research project elaborates around the notions of poverty and relative wealth as multidimensional, from the perspectives of women and men who experience and attempt to overcome poverty in coastal communities in eastern Zanzibar (Unguja), in situations of external as well as internal processes of social, economic and environmental change. It explores the range of coping strategies applied by women and men, using a combination of land-based and marine resources, and looks into factors that are instrumental for poor people’s capacity to move out of poverty or inability to withstand falling into poverty. The research also deals with the extent to which current economic activities are informed and guided by experienced-based knowledge and assessment of natural resources and processes, and the consequences of multiple, and even contradictory, resource management directives and tenure regimes. A related research question concerns how conflicts over scarce resources are addressed and managed at different levels, in recognition of the coexistence of formal and informal arrangements and institutions that can provide some – if not adequate – security for poor women, men and children.

To the top