The analysis of exit options out of artisanal mining provides a useful entry point for discussing recent efforts made in many African countries' poverty alleviation strategies to promote smallholder farming. This article critically analyses exit options and their applicability to wider rural development policy and planning in the context of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although smallholder rural agriculture is perceived to be an appropriate exit strategy by supporting agencies, it may, in fact, not be suitable for a variety of reasons. These include, but are not limited to, land access and tenure, economic remuneration, security and relevant skills. The article examines whether trade and small businesses may be more suitable alternatives, given that these exit options build on present artisanal miners' skills, knowledge and social networks. As agencies consider support towards exit options for artisanal miners, within a broader rural development framework, an analysis of not only the technical nature of alternative opportunities is critical; equally, an analysis of the socio-political constraints to exit is necessary. In effect, a ‘critical re-think’ of the region's rural development strategy is imperative. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.