Tag Archives: Kenya

(Mis-)communicating climate information in Kenya

“Is this a bad time to call?” Mobile phones, migrants (mis-)communication of climate information in Kenya

NEW!  Click here to download the full presentation from Wed. 5 April, 2017 – American Association of Geographers (AAG), Boston, MA

Huge thanks to all who joined me and my fellow panelists (Peter Dannenberg; Sheila Huggins Rao; Dorothea Kleine) at the American Association for Geographers (AAG) meeting in Boston, MA.  Feedback, questions and comments continue to be welcome. Please keep in touch!

Abstract: . Ethnographic fieldwork conducted with farmer groups in contrasting high and low market-access sites over the period 2012-2016 explores how household members shared (or withheld) information about climate and agricultural performance using phones or physical visits.

Phone calls were the dominant medium for information sharing, which for agricultural issues prioritised discussion of crop problems, dry spells, lack of inputs, and extreme weather events.  Mobile money transfers were the most common response to reported problems with many migrants concerned and frustrated by the poor agricultural performance in the rural areas. Reliance on mobile communication and a decreasing frequency of migrants’ physical involvement in the rural home leads to migrants’ perceptions that climate-related changes are extreme and potentially costly.

Narratives of climate change and its impacts in rural Kenya must therefore be interpreted with care, since many are embedded in household narratives constituted to maintain the economic and emotional involvement of migrants in their rural homes.

FOLLOW THE PROJECT ON ITS WEBSITE multilocationality.wordpress.com


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.

(Contact me for more information…)

Equitable Alternatives and Local Solutions to Land Grabs in Africa

Tuesday 24 March 2015 (10 am to 12 noon)

U. Ottawa, Social Science Bldg (120 University Priv), Room 4007

Panel Discussion moderated by Adrian Harewood (@CBCAdrianH)

  • Faris Ahmed (Director of Policy, USC Canada)
  • Samuel Bonti-Ankomah (Carleton Univ.)
  • Annie Brunton (MA Student, SIDGS, uOttawa)
  • Roy Culpeper (Chair, CELADA)
  • Joshua Ramisch (uOttawa)
  • Blair Rutherford (Carleton Univ.)

Organized by :

  • CELADA (Coalition for Equitable Land Acquisitions in Africa ) – celada.ca
  • SIDGS (School of International Development & Global Studies, uOttawa) – website here.

Joshua speaks during the panel
Speaking during the panel on “Alternatives to Landgrabs” (24 Mar. 2015) [Photo credit: Eshete]
I will post links to the panel materials after the event.  In the meantime, if you are concerned with the rise of inequitable acquisitions of land in Africa and how they are displacing farmers and pastoralists, visit the CELADA resource page for possible actions.

One strategy is by emailing your MP. Persuade them to support CELADA’s aims by explaining why you believe Canada should take a leading role in challenging inequitable land acquisitions in Africa.

How to (mis)understand youth, migration & agrarian change

Much of the literature on a “cellphone revolution” in Africa frames the technology as the driver of change, for such things as financial inclusion for the poor, better agricultural or climate information to farmers, the power for social movements to hold governments accountable.  In this brown bag talk I am interested in exploring how cellphones are part of a broader set of social changes – responding to and helping to shape those changes – but not necessarily driving them.

Click here to download the slides (“This cellphone is my lifeline”: How to (mis)understand youth, migration, and agrarian change in Kenya).

This talk draws on ongoing research as well as material previously published and presented, e.g.:

Mohamed Noorani (2013-2014), MA, Univ. of Ottawa

Mohamed Noorani
Mohamed Noorani

MA Thesis: To Farm or Not to Farm? Rural Youth Perceptions of Farming and their Decision of Whether or Not to Work as a Farmer: A Case Study of Rural Youth in Kiambu County, Kenya.

Read the full thesis here (pdf file).

Mohamed was in Kenya from Feb.-May 2014 to study how youth in central Kenya perceive and engage with agriculture.  He was particularly interested in those who are approaching (or returning to) agriculture as an entrepreneurial opportunity.  Mohammed worked in conjunction with FarmShop (www.farmshop.co.ke), a Kenyan NGO.

For more information contact me or Mohamed himself (through LinkedIn).


The present study examines rural youth perceptions of farming and their decision of whether or not to work as a farmer by paying special attention to personal career aspirations, social (peer and parental) influences, and structural (land, finance, market, and agricultural education) constraints as the “push” and “pull” forces of farming. Interviews were conducted with 59 youth in six villages of Kiambu County, Kenya. Findings revealed that non-agricultural career aspirations, such as engineering and teaching, may create the desire to migrate away from farming. While many youth held negative perceptions of farming, which were reinforced through peer and parental influence, a sub-set of youth expressed a passion for farming and considered farming an attractive career path. However, the existence of structural barriers and the difficulties in overcoming them, especially access to land, limited their participation in farming.

Eunice Njoroge (2011-2014), MA, Univ. of Ottawa

MA, Major Research Paper (International & Public Affairs) Urban agriculture as a livelihood for Urban Poor: Opportunities, Obstacles, and Policy Implications for sub-Saharan African Cities.


Urban Agriculture (UA) serves as an essential livelihood strategy for urban households across Sub-Saharan Africa. In the context of worsened economic conditions triggered by the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) of the 1990s, and rapid urbanization witnessed over the past 20 years; there has been increased rural to urban migration across African cities, diminished economic opportunities and consequently rising urban unemployment and poverty. The poor urban dwellers residing in informal settlements have resorted to UA as a way to ameliorate against the growing food insecurity and to generate income to meet their other household needs such as healthcare, education and housing.
In spite of the benefits of UA to poor households, they face obstacles such as prohibitive local policies preventing access to public land the most need resource for this practice. Furthermore severe weather conditions compounded by poor infrastructure are threats to the potential of UA to meet the livelihood needs of the urban poor.
The purpose of this paper is to make a contribution to existing studies, by analyzing the general trends in UA across Sub-Saharan Africa, to uncover the major issues which policy-makers ought to pay attention to, in order to promote viable urban farming among the lowest socio-economic group across the region. To achieve this objective, the paper first examines the contribution of UA to urban households, then goes further to reveal the policy and environmental obstacles to UA. This research paper thus makes a contribution to the broader topic of sustainable livelihoods, which is key to Africa’s long-term development.
The key findings of this study are first, UA does make a contribution to the livelihoods of the low income groups residing in urban areas, who have no formal employment, this comes in the form of meeting their nutritional needs and in some cases provides a means of income generation. Secondly, in many cities, UA faces major obstacles in the form of prohibitive laws which makes access to land difficult. Thirdly, UA provides some benefits to the urban environment in the form of producing green areas that regulate humidity, conserve soil as well as produces recyclable organic waste. The paper concludes by providing policy interventions in three broad areas namely: land use, food security and agriculture and; environment and health.

Lynsey Longfield (2013-2014), MA, Univ. of Ottawa

MA Thesis:  Challenges and Opportunities Shaping Smallholders’ Engagement with Formal and Informal Markets for Food and Livelihood Security: A Rift Valley, Kenya Case Study Analysis. (Jan. 2013-Aug. 2014)

Thesis available from UofO here.

Lynsey’s project addresses whether and how smallholder farmers in the Eldoret-Kitale corridor of Kenya are effectively able to gain access to supermarkets and other formal markets.  For more information contact me or Lynsey herself (through LinkedIn).


This case study analysis looks at four communities in Rift Valley, Kenya including Matisi, Moi’s Bridge, Sirende and Waitaluk.  The research focuses on the role of markets in achieving food and livelihood security for the smallholders in these communities and smallholders’ perceptions of the roles of the Government of Kenya and other institutions in facilitating market access. The largest challenges to market participation, as reported by the smallholders in the studied communities, include low yields, weather inconsistencies, and lack of land.  In terms of the Government of Kenya, many smallholders noted the benefits of participating in groups as they are subsequently offered training or field days and subsidies.  A significant group of respondents did comment on their lack of interest in joining similar groups as they were seen as unstable or corrupt.  The potential roles of formal and informal markets to increase food security were also analyzed.  All smallholders wished to be participating in informal markets, but twenty-five percent were constrained by the lack of surplus produce.  Similarly, although many reported their desire to be participants in formal markets lack of surplus produce, price fluctuations, inconsistent weather patterns, transportation costs and post- harvest losses or food waster were recognized as significant barriers.  In order to mitigate these constraints, most smallholders recommended subsidies on inputs and the overall restructuring of markets.  It is recommended that organizations and governments implement a livelihood diversification policy program or initiative to diversify and intensify agricultural activities and other non-agricultural activities.  This case study analysis demonstrates the need to recognize the importance of local contexts, specifically Rift Valley as much of the research done in Kenya is found in Nairobi and surrounding areas and cautions labeling communities as food secure based on favorable conditions.