Personal profile


Frank Ellis has a background in agricultural economics and rural development. Earlier in his career he wrote two of the established texts in this area Peasant Economics (1988; 1993) and Agricultural Policies in Developing Countries (1992). Since 1999, he has had a special interest in the livelihoods approach to poverty reduction in low income countries with its emphasis on the assets of rural households, the activities in which they engage and the outcomes they achieve, set within risk and institutional contexts. This approach is fundamental to contemporary policy engagement with chronically poor and vulnerable groups and populations, including our understanding of poverty traps and thresholds, and policy choices concerning effective forms of social protection. His book Rural Livelihoods and Diversity in Developing Countries was published in 2000.

Frank Ellis has done pioneering work on rural livelihoods, working in the late 1990s with DFID on the development of the sustainable livelihoods framework; and applying this framework in research studies and policy applications in the 2000s. Between 2000 and 2004 he was the principal investigator of the DFID-funded Livelihoods and Diversification Directions Explored by Research (LADDER) research project conducted in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi, and the link below provides access to the data and outputs arising from that project.

From 2005-10 Frank Ellis was co-principal investigator of the research component of the southern Africa Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme (RHVP), funded by DFID. This programme sought to provoke a major shift in thinking about policy responses to hunger in southern Africa, moving away from crisis-driven emergency responses to continuity in social transfers to the chronically most vulnerable. The co-authored book Social Protection in Africa was published in 2009, following the first phase of research under RHVP. Frank Ellis continues to work on food security and social protection and is currently a member of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid) Expert Panel on Social Protection.

The LADDER website can be found via this link

CV and Experience

Download Frank's short CV from here

Key Research Interests

Agricultural economics and rural development: agricultural policies, rural poverty reduction, rural livelihoods, vulnerability and social protection. Main current geographical focus Sub-Saharan Africa, with former interests also in Central America, Fiji and Indonesia.

Research Groups: Social Protection and Mobile Livelihoods

Current and recent research 

  1. Vulnerability, Food Security and Social Protection (2005-ongoing)

    This research area emerged from earlier rural livelihoods work and from engagement in the ODI-led Forum for Food Security in Southern Africa (FFSSA) in 2003. In 2005 Frank Ellis became co-principal investigator (with Stephen Devereux and Philip White) of the research component of the DFID-funded Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme (RHVP). The objective of this programme was to shift the policy response to growing vulnerability in the southern African region from emergency responses to social protection; an aim moderately well captured by the phrase ‘predictable funding for predictable needs’. The intention of the research component was to disseminate best practice in food security and social protection within and between southern African countries, and to stimulate effective policy change in these areas. Research outputs from RHVP are listed under REPORTS AND WORKING PAPERS below. RHVP developed in two phases 2005-08, and 2009-10. Since 2009, Frank Ellis has been a member of the AusAid Expert Panel on Social Protection. Food security and social protection remain key areas of research interest. 
  2. Local Government Taxation and Pathways out of Poverty (2003-06)

    This followed on from findings of the LADDER project (see below and the LADDER website), and comprised projects funded by DFID in Uganda and the World Bank in Tanzania. In the Uganda case, detailed quantitative empirical work was conducted on the incidence of local taxes on firms of different sizes and households with different per capita income levels, as well as on traders in markets (see Bahiigwa et al., 2004 under REPORTS AND WORKING PAPERS below). In the Tanzania case a Poverty and Social Impact (PSIA) study was conducted for the World Bank on local taxation reform (see Cross & Ellis, 2006 under REPORTS AND WORKING PAPERS below) 
  3. Ethiopia Participatory Poverty Assessment 2004-05 (2004-06, 2007)

    This was a major research exercise conducted in collaboration with Dr Tassew Woldehanna of the Economics Department at Addis Ababa University. Frank Ellis was responsible for devising the methodology manual for the PPA, drawing on best practice from previous PPAs in other countries as well as lessons learned from the LADDER studies. The PPA conducted qualitative research in 31 rural and 14 urban research sites covering the whole of Ethiopia. The PPA report can be found under REPORTS AND WORKING PAPERS below. Some of the findings of the PPA were utilised in the Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP), the second-round Ethiopia PRSP, published in September 2006; and were also incorporated in a subsequent Ethiopia poverty analysis (see Woldehanna et al., 2008, under BOOKS).
  4. Livelihoods and Diversification Directions Explored by Research (LADDER) (2000-2004, 2006)

    The DFID-funded LADDER research programme ran for five years in total and involved collaboration with research teams in four countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi) as well as policy workshops held in each country, an international conference on Rural Livelihoods and Poverty Reduction Policies held in Nairobi in January 2003, a total of 10 refereed journal articles and an edited book published by Routledge in 2005. The research conducted quantitative and qualitative livelihoods research with 1345 households in 37 villages across the four countries. The project had its own website, still accessible here, from which the quantitative data sets and qualitative village reports, as well as working papers, can be downloaded. Many of the refereed publications from this project are listed under Frank Ellis Publications (below). In 2005-06, revisit research was conducted in Uganda in a project known as LADDER 2, the report of which can be found under REPORTS AND WORKING PAPERS below.

Teaching Interests

Frank Ellis has stopped doing formal teaching in the School, but continues to give guest lectures to taught postgraduate students on topics of rural livelihoods, vulnerability, food security and social protection.

In the period 2008-11, the following 8 research students supervised by Frank Ellis obtained their PhDs: Alessandro de Matteis, Rob Grant, Sumbye Kapena, Masahiro Kawamura, Dyton Maliro, Elizabeth Manda, Kerstin Pfleigner and Elizabeth Westaway.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger