Category Archives: Article

Cellphones’ ambiguous effects on rural households in Western Kenya (2015, Article)

“Never at ease”: Cellphones, multilocational households, and the metabolic rift in western Kenya

Agriculture and Human Values (Dec. 2015) DOI: 10.1007/s10460-015-9654-3
Download the pdf from my ResearchGate site here.

AHV coverHIGHLIGHTS: New field data from Western Kenya (building on the chapter published in 2014 – read it here) suggests:

  • Rural households are networked to migrant members elsewhere in the country, who can be called upon for financial, social, and emotional support.  These networks were larger than expected.
  • Frequent telephonic contact within households seems to be decreasing the frequency with which members physically see each other, and extending the time between migrants’ return visits to the rural area.
  • The lack of physical presence is disrupting the transmission and generation of agroecological knowledge about the rural area.
  • Migrant men believe themselves to be quite involved in rural affairs; frequent telephonic contact constrains the already limited autonomy of female-headed households in the rural sphere.

The article is part of a series of papers from a 2014 symposium on “Labour Dynamics of Agrarian Change”.  SSHRC-funded research in Kenya (2015-2020) will continue to explore these issues in other settings and in greater detail.
ABSTRACT: Western Kenya has been a labour-exporting region for over a century, with many households straddling both rural and urban contexts. While the spatial separation of migrants from their rural places of origin represented the first tangible metabolic rift within Kenyan agricultural production systems, that rift is being reshaped as rural families engage in new forms of interconnection with migrant members (“multilocationality”). These changes appear to be driven by the ongoing crisis of agrarian livelihoods and are supported by the advent of cellphone communication and mobile money transfer technologies.
Interviews and ethnographic data collected in a western Kenyan community and amongst its out-migrants reveal the role of cellphones in mediating social, financial, and knowledge flows within multilocational households. The increased ease of communicating and sending money is associated with less frequent physical movements between rural and urban settings, with commensurate disruptions in the acquisition and development of agro-ecological knowledge, and a shifting burden of agricultural labour. Gender relations are also put under further stress: migrant men remain (or believe they have remained) involved in rural affairs but appear to be using cellphone technologies to reinvent their household roles, replacing previously social or labour contributions with financial ones and by asserting claims over the on-farm decision-making of rural households previously considered female-headed.

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Learning from when farmers & scientists disagree about soil (2014, Article)

Geoforum‘They don’t know what they are talking about’: Learning from the dissonances in dialogue about soil fertility knowledge and experimental practice in western Kenya

ABSTRACT: Knowledge-based development interventions for improved natural resource management have long advocated for the integration of local and outsiders’ knowledge. Participatory and conventional approaches frame this as a dialogue between “local” and “scientific” knowledges, using the relative strengths of each stakeholder’s experience to reinforce knowledge gaps. While the epistemological and methodological challenges of such dialogue are well-documented, this study uses a community-based learning project for integrated soil fertility management in western Kenya to explore the less understood dynamics of dissonance between and within knowledge systems. While participatory research did build a dynamic expertise for soil fertility management shared by both smallholder farmers and scientists, divergent expectations and understandings emerged after the initial enthusiasm of shared learning. This included scientists assessing farmers as “not very good” researchers and farmers seeing researchers as “not very good” farmers. Dissonances between actors’ different understandings of soil, the research process, and each other had multiple implications, including on the validity of conclusions reached by different actors and on the possibility for scientific support for local experimentation. While many dissonances ultimately fueled learning and improvements to the project, this required both farmers and scientists to move beyond initial critiques of each other’s knowledge and practices. At their worst, dissonant knowledge claims were actually political ones, hiding competition for control of the development process. Recognizing the nature and extent of dissonances is therefore a crucial step in understanding how best to apply limited resources and disciplinary expertise within participatory teams attempting to build hybrid knowledge.

Download the pdf from my ResearchGate site here.

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Learning from Kenyan farmers’ experiments with Soybean

Integrating new soybean varieties for soil fertility management in smallholder systems through participatory research: Lessons from western Kenya

Agricultural Systems 01/2008; DOI:10.1016/j.agsy.2007.10.002
Download the unrevised pdf from ResearchGate here.

ABSTRACT The aim of this paper was to understand the process of selecting soybean (Glycine max [L.] Merr.) promiscuous varieties by smallholders for soil fertility management in western Kenya. Eight varieties were screened on 2.5 m × 3 m plots that were managed according to farmers’ practices and evaluated through participatory monitoring and evaluation approaches. Farmers selected preferred varieties and explained their reasons (criteria) for making the selections. Seven promiscuous varieties had better yields than a local one. Farmers’ selection criteria fell into three broad categories relating to yield, appearance and labour. Selection criteria were not primarily aimed to improve soil fertility. This created a challenge to embed the new varieties within the local farming systems for soil fertility improvement. This study shows that farmer criteria for selecting varieties overlapped with scientific procedures. We propose co-research activities targeted to strengthen farmer experimentation skills, their understanding on Nitrogen addition, and the role of Phosphorus.

Indigenous knowledge reveals soil fertility status in Central Kenya

Scientific evaluation of smallholder land use knowledge in Central Kenya

Land Degradation and Development (Impact Factor: 1.99). 07/2007; 19(1):77 – 90. DOI:10.1002/ldr.815
Download the full text from ResearchGate here

ABSTRACT The following study was conducted to determine smallholders’ land use management practices and agricultural indicators of soil quality within farmers’ fields in Chuka and Gachoka divisions in Kenya’s Central Highlands. Data on cropping practices and soil indicators were collected from farmers through face-to-face interviews and field examinations. Farmers characterised their fields into high and low fertility plots, after which soils were geo-referenced and sampled at surface depth (0–20 cm) for subsequent physical and chemical analyses.

Farmers’ indicators for distinguishing productive and non-productive fields included crop yield, crop performance and weed species. Soils that were characterised as fertile, had significantly higher chemical characteristics than the fields that were of poor quality. Fertile soils had significantly higher pH, total organic carbon, exchangeable cations and available nitrogen. Factor analysis identified four main factors that explained 76 per cent of the total variance in soil quality. The factors were connected with farmers’ soil assessment indicators and main soil processes that influenced soil quality in Central Kenya. Soil fertility and crop management practices that were investigated indicated that farmers understood and consequently utilised spatial heterogeneity and temporal variability in soil quality status within their farms to maintain and enhance agricultural productivity.
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Indigenous knowledge helps farmers manage complex soils in Central Kenya

Integrating scientific and farmers’ evaluation of soil quality indicators in Central Kenya

Geoderma 01/2007; DOI:10.1016/j.geoderma.2007.01.019
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ABSTRACT A study was conducted to determine farmers’ perceptions of soil quality and common soil management practices that influenced soil fertility within farmers’ fields in Chuka and Gachoka divisions, Kenya. Soils were characterised by smallholders after which they were geo-referenced and sampled at surface depth (0–20 cm) for subsequent physical and chemical analyses, to determine differences within farmers’ soil quality categories. Indicators for distinguishing productive and non-productive fields included crop yield and performance, soil colour and soil texture. There were significant differences among soil fertility categories, using parametric techniques (ANOVA) for key soil properties (p < 0.005), implying that there was a qualitative difference in the soils that were characterised as different by farmers. Fertile soils had significantly higher pH, total organic carbon, exchangeable cations and available-N. Factor analysis on 15 soil properties identified 4 main factors that explained 68% of the total variance in soil quality. The four Varimax-rotated factors were designated as contrasts that described soil quality status on farmers’ fields. The first factor grouped calcium, magnesium and soil pH, while the second component comprised available nitrogen, organic carbon and total nitrogen. The third factor included plant nutrients mainly extractable phosphorus and available nitrogen, while the fourth factor comprised soil physical properties (macroaggregates, microaggregates, silt, and clay). Soil fertility and crop management practices that were investigated indicated that farmers understood and consequently utilised spatial heterogeneity and temporal variability in soil quality status within their farms as a resource to maintain or enhance agricultural productivity.

See also: