Prioritizing options for multi-objective agricultural development through the Positive Deviance approach.
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Agricultural development must integrate multiple objectives at the same time, including food security, income, and environmental sustainability. To help achieve these objectives, development practitioners need to prioritize concrete livelihood practices to promote to rural households. But trade-offs between objectives can lead to dilemmas in selecting practices. In addition, heterogeneity among farming households requires targeting different strategies to different types of households. Existing diversity of household resources and activities, however, may also bear solutions. We explored a new, empirical research method that identifies promising options for multi-objective development by focusing on existing cases of strong multi-dimensional household performance. The "Positive Deviance" approach signifies identifying locally viable livelihood practices from diverse households that achieve stronger performance than comparable households in the same area. These practices are promising for other local households in comparable resource contexts. The approach has been used in other domains, such as child nutrition, but has not yet been fully implemented for agricultural development with a focus on the simultaneous achievement of multiple objectives. To test our adapted version of the Positive Deviance approach, we used a quantitative survey of over 500 rural households in South-Eastern Tanzania. We identified 54 households with outstanding relative performance regarding five key development dimensions (food security, income, nutrition, environmental sustainability, and social equity). We found that, compared to other households with similar resource levels, these "positive deviants" performed strongest for food security, but only slightly better for social equity. We then re-visited a diverse sub-sample for qualitative interviews, and identified 14 uncommon, "deviant" practices that plausibly contributed to the households' superior outcomes. We illustrate how these practices can inform specific recommendations of practices for other local households in comparable resource contexts. The study demonstrates how, with the Positive Deviance approach, empirical observations of individual, outstanding households can inform discussions about locally viable agricultural development solutions in diverse household context.
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