Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Community Development and Applied Economics

First Advisor

Travis Reynolds


Smallholder agriculture is an integral part of the global food system – indeed, over 80% of the world’s farms operate on less than two hectares of land. In Uganda, these smallholder farmers grow the majority (~85%) of food produced, and thus are critical to domestic food security. However, due to external threats such as economic hardship and climate change, smallholders are also vulnerable to food insecurity themselves. As we work towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger, it is crucial that we pay particular attention to this vital population. This thesis explores two key explanatory factors that can negatively impact smallholder food security, namely insecure land tenure and external shocks, drawing upon nationally and regionally representative household agricultural survey data collected by the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) in partnership with the World Bank as part of the National Panel Survey collected from 2019-2020 (wave 7).

All development initiatives aimed at reaching the Sustainable Development Goals are driven by the data that is collected on the indicators, thus the choice of how land tenure security is measured can have long reaching effects for smallholders. The first article in this thesis examines how land tenure security is measured and the implications of choosing different tenure security metrics, particularly the implications for women. Drawing on Uganda National Panel Survey data from 2020 we compare the most common measure of tenure security, possession of a property document, with a recently developed framework by Doss and Meinzen-Dick (2020) that measures tenure security as a bundle of six land rights, both at the household and the plot level. Results from descriptive and bivariate analysis parse out the stories that different metrics can tell and highlight the importance of a more nuanced exploration of the factors that contribute to women’s tenure security.

As external shocks such as climate change events and global health crises become more frequent and severe in the coming decades, it is critical that we understand the resilience strategies that best help smallholder farmers weather these shocks as we work towards zero hunger for all. The second article in this thesis compares the contributions of two key resilience strategies, namely crop diversity and market engagement, to household food security, measured using the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES). By pairing the 2020 Uganda National Panel Survey data with a series of high frequency phone surveys collected by the World Bank during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, this study analyzes food security outcomes as a function of crop diversity (Simpson's Diversity Index (SDI)) and market engagement (travel time to market in hours and the sale of crops at market) among 1,897 panel survey households through the course of the pandemic. Results from event history analysis methods (Cox proportional hazards models) underscore the importance of crop diversity in mitigating the experience of food insecurity, highlight the challenges households headed by women and rural households face, and provide valuable context in characterizing the smallholders that were able to withstand the pandemic without experiencing food insecurity.



Number of Pages

133 p.