The paper utilizes qualitative data to expand our understanding of the nature and dynamics of rural poverty. It is based on data from key informant interviews, focus group discussions and household case studies collected in two kebele administrations in Tarmaber wereda of North Shewa, one in the woina dega agro-ecological zone and the other in the dega zone.
The qualitative approach undertaken in this study goes beyond measurements of incomes and expenditures in assessing poverty to characterize the significance of varying levels of access to key production assets for household economic status, the nature of poverty in a specific context, and the attributes of locally relevant economic categories of households. The process-oriented approach to poverty provides a fuller and more accurate assessment of the factors explaining why households fall into poverty. It also shows how consideration of the ‘active’ and subjective aspects of various peasant livelihood strategies brings out the potential of and constraints on each of them. Furthermore, it demonstrates that social phenomena such as networks of mutual assistance, resource exchanges, the social development and adaptive changes in the structure of households, which are best studied through qualitative methods, have significant implications for household economic prospects and patterns of rural poverty. Finally, peasant perceptions and experiences of various government development interventions and institutions are considered in assessing their potential and shortcomings in terms of poverty reduction.