“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.
MA, Major Research Paper (Institute of Environmental Sustainability): Caribou Variability and Inuit Food Security: A case study of Iqaluit and the Baffin Island Caribou herd. (Oct. 2015 – Aug. 2016)
The relationship between food security and climate change in Canada has largely been addressed in the context of large-scale agriculture-based food systems but there have been few studies considering how smaller, subsistence-based food systems are affected. Moreover, there are distinctive food security considerations for First Nations and Inuit related to the harvesting and consumption of traditional foods, which impacts the commonly considered dimensions of food security: access, availability, supply and utilization. Due to shifting away from a traditional to more modernized economy, there has been increased competition between traditional food consumption and a more westernized diet which can be conceptualized as a “nutrition transition”. However, traditional foods still make up a large proportion of people’s diets and, in combination with store-bought foods, remain integral to the contemporary Inuit food system. Climate change appears correlated with increased variability of traditional food sources such as caribou, which may be impacting local food security for First Nations communities.
This research paper sought to investigate this relationship by using a case study of the Baffin Island caribou herd, which has recently plummeted to critically low levels of abundance, and its impact on the community of Iqaluit. The research found that climate variability caused a decrease in the availability of caribou likely due to the subsequent shift in their distribution as a result of changing ability to access forage. While this created a shortage of caribou meat in Iqaluit, it can be argued that broader socioeconomic conditions such as poverty and unemployment were more pressing than environmental conditions in terms of food security determinants among those living in Iqaluit.
NEW! Click here to download my presentation at the 2016 Contested Agronomy conference (“Where’s the Gap? The social construction of yield gaps between researchers’ and farmers’ practice”). This is the draft version of the 15 minute script to the forthcoming paper… and even includes a special celebrity in an unexpected, starring role!
More information on the conference itself can be found here.
“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.
HIGHLIGHTS: 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.
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.
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.
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.:
‘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.