“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.
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 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.
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.
The first colloquium of the Laboratory for the Interdisciplinary Study of Food (LISF) was held on 4 April 2014 (full programme here). Local activists and researchers presented cutting edge work (in English and French) on:
Global and local food issues
How make universities’ food systems more just
Land grabbing and food security in Africa
Book launch of “Globalization and Food Sovereignty”
Huge thanks to all who joined me and my fellow panelists (Lincoln Addison; Regina Hansda; Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt; Chris Huggins) at the American Association for Geographers (AAG) meeting in Tampa, Florida. Feedback, questions and comments continue to be welcome. Please keep in touch!
Abstract: Western Kenya has been a labour-exporting region for over a century, with many households opting to “straddle” both rural and urban contexts by deploying multilocational livelihoods that have reproduced themselves over generations. Ethnographic and historical investigations show that while this densely settled landscape (with the highest population densities in Kenya) was self-sufficient in food production up until the 1940s, for the last 70 years households and communities have relied heavily on off-farm income and reciprocity to maintain food security, thereby staving off major food crises despite environmental and socio-economic pressures. Indeed, contrary to the dominant, capitalist models of rural-urban migration and agrarian change, these household coping strategies have actually supported a continued growth in the rural population even while agricultural output has remained stagnant and land per capita dwindled. This paper draws on thirteen years of interviews and survey data from several western Kenyan communities to interrogate the role of new technologies (especially cellphones) in accelerating the ways in which migrants are (re )enrolled in rural struggles for land, labour, and food security. Multilocational livelihood strategies are significantly reshaping gender relations and household decision-making but appear to dilute and spread the scarce resources of all but the most advantaged households.