Category Archives: Chapter

Livelihoods, Cellphones, and Migration in Kenya (2014, Chapter)

2014-NRE coverRamisch, J.J. (2014) ‘We will not farm like our fathers’: Multilocational livelihoods, cellphones, and the continuing challenge of rural development in western Kenya.  Chapter 2 in D. Sick, (ed.) Rural Livelihoods, Regional Economies, and Processes of Change. Routledge.  Pp. 10-35.

Download the unrevised pdf from ResearchGate here.

ABSTRACT:

Many sub-Saharan Africa smallholder farmers have diversified beyond purely agricultural, rural livelihoods towards ones with household members exploiting opportunities in multiple locations.  This chapter explores the evolution and implications of multilocational livelihoods for western Kenyan households and out-migrants, using interviews and ethnographic data collected over a 12-year period.

Findings suggest that:
– The livelihood and food security vulnerabilities of both the rural and urban areas are strongly interlinked, supported in part by contemporary cellphone communication and money transfer technologies.
– Multilocationality results from and reinforces intergenerational and gendered tensions and is changing the ways that agroecological knowledge is created and shared.

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Working with Farmer’s Experiments (2012, Chapter)

Contested AgronomyRamisch, J.J. (2012) ‘This field is our church’: The social and agronomic challenges of farmer participatory research.  Chapter 9 in Sumberg, J.E., Thompson, J. (eds.) Contested Agronomy: Agricultural Research in a Changing World.  London: Earthscan. Pp. 146-174.

Download the unrevised pdf from ResearchGate here.

ABSTRACT:
Certain types of participation have gained legitimacy amongst agronomists in national and international research centres, e.g. “farmer field schools” and other group-based experimentation / demonstration approaches; participatory ranking exercises for variety appraisals; wealth ranking or other problem trees to identify constraints.  This participation imperative means that on-farm research now necessarily engages twin (social and agronomic) objectives – “empowerment”, greater knowledge sharing, and improved social capital on the one hand, which in turn are supposed to foster improved crop husbandry on the other hand, visible as improved crop performance and yields, soil fertility, etc.  However, it is not clear that the research products and data gained from these activities are effectively advancing either agronomy or farmers’ welfare.

Case study material from national and international agricultural research on soil fertility management in Kenya illustrates some of the challenges of implementing such participatory technology development.  These challenges are related to the political, social dynamics of group-based learning, to the complexities of knowledge generation and sharing in a real, social context, and to the suspect validity and rigour of data generated in these hybrid ventures.  Even projects that explicitly tried to subvert these problems were only moderately successful in implementing changes, and many examples show how difficult it was to generate useful (i.e. publishable) agronomic data or conclusions.  Local actors ended up perceiving the researchers as “not very good farmers”, while research teams found farmers to be “not very good researchers”, obviously not the middle ground that these participatory approaches hope to achieve.

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The Meanings of Farmers’ Experiments (2011, Chapter)

Knowing NatureRamisch, J.J., (2011) Experiments as ‘performances’: Interpreting farmers’ soil fertility management practices in western Kenya. Chapter 15 in Goldman, M., P. Nadasdy, M.D. Turner (eds.) Knowing Nature: Conversations at the Intersection of Political Ecology and Science Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp. 280 – 295.

Download the unrevised pdf from ResearchGate here.

ABSTRACT

A growing body of literature describes the interface between formal agricultural research and the knowledges of local communities.  While this research has advanced the awareness of rural practice it usually does so with utilitarian goals of “integrating” knowledge systems or validating local practice in more cosmopolitan forums.  Yet encounters between development actors are power-laden such that claims of “knowledge”, evidence of “learning”, or indeed the very construction of “local practice” are contestable subjects.  Specific examples from community-based learning and development projects in western Kenya illustrate the performative and negotiated nature of both local and formal knowledge as applied to constructing and interpreting “experiments” relating to soil fertility management.  The diversity of practices and outcomes reveals the problems of generalizing principles about actual soil fertility management strategies without an understanding of their social context.

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Making Sense of Soil Nutrient Balances (2010, Chapter)

Beyond the BiophysicalRamisch, J.J., (2010) Beyond the Invisible: Finding the Social Relevance of Soil Nutrient Balances in Southern Mali. Chapter 2 in German, L., Ramisch, J.J., Verma, R., (eds.) Beyond the Biophysical: Knowledge, Culture, and Power in Natural Resource Management. New York: Springer.  Pp. 25-48.

Download the unrevised pdf from ResearchGate here.

ABSTRACT
The cotton-centered farming system of southern Mali has gained a reputation both as a paragon of successful, cash-crop led development and also as an example of serious soil nutrient depletion (“soil mining”). This chapter engages and critiques the social and developmental implications of the soil mining narrative and the language and methodology of soil nutrient balances that underpins it. By deploying the language of crisis in an “invisible” realm, soil scientists and development practitioners assert claims to control and knowledge of productive resources that would otherwise be the objects of intense social negotiation. The data-intensive calculation process also creates a false sense of precision about the “invisible” world of soil nutrients whose relationship to a social context is unknown or only implied. Examples from field work at the southern frontier of the cotton zone illustrate the partiality of the knowledge conveyed by nutrient balances and reveal the importance of multiple other “invisible” phenomena that were excluded from or could not be easily incorporated into the nutrient balance methodology. In the highly contested terrain of agro-pastoralism, migration, and mobility, these phenomena would include the constantly renegotiated access arrangements to land, labor, and livestock. The social relevance of nutrient balances can therefore only be improved by situating soil fertility within a broader context of environmental and livelihood factors, visible and invisible.

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