The Machakos Case Study: Solid Outcomes, Unhelpful Hyperbole



This article revisits the well-known study of Machakos District, Kenya reported in the book More People, Less Erosion by Tiffen et al., which found dramatic, compelling evidence of successful endogenous adaptation to changing circumstances by rural Africans. The article seeks to elucidate discrepancies between the Machakos findings and other findings in the interest of both scientific accuracy and policy relevance. It is suggested that the Machakos study comprises hopeful data, on the one hand, and problematic calculations and assertions, on the other. After exploring problems with the study, the article suggests an alternative interpretation of the data that is arguably more pertinent to contemporary concerns with rural poverty and environmental degradation as well as more widely applicable in sub-Saharan Africa.