Many sources indicate that smallholder tree-crop commodity farmers are poor, but there is a paucity of data on how many of them are poor and the depth of poverty. The living income concept establishes the net annual income required for a household in a place to aford a decent standard of living. Based on datasets on smallholder cocoa and tea farmers in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Kenya and literature, we conclude that a large proportion of such farmers do not have the potential to earn a living income based on their current situation. Because these farmers typically cultivate small farm sizes and have low capacity to invest and to diversify, there are no silver bullets to move them out of poverty. We present an assessment approach that results in insights into which interventions can be effective in improving the livelihoods of different types of farmers. While it is morally imperative that all households living in poverty are supported to earn a living income, the assessment approach and literature indicate that focussing on short- to medium-term interventions for households with a low likelihood of generating a living income could be: improving food security and health, finding of-farm and alternative employment, and social assistance programmes. In the long term, land governance policies could address land fragmentation and secure rights. Achieving living incomes based on smallholder commodity production requires more discussion and engagement with farmers and their household members and within their communities, coordination between all involved stakeholders, sharing lessons learnt and data.