I'm Assistant professor at the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University. Besides teaching and supervising thesis students, I'm involved in research on multifunctional agriculture, food provisioning and place-based development. My specific angle is transformative capacity, joint learning and innovation and institutional reform
The thesis research examines the socio-economic challenges facing family farmers in Kenya, and provides a critical analysis of how producer organizations support small-scale dairy farmers to adapt to governance, environmental, and market changes in the country. Small-scale dairy, mixed with field crops, is a common livelihood activity for a majority of family farmers in Kenya, providing both a source of subsistence food security and income generation in formal and informal markets (both local and national). But Kenyan farmers are facing a number of challenges in 2017: an on-going severe drought, increasing conflict over access to pasture lands, and dwindling access to farmer support services as the national government both liberalizes the agriculture sector and decentralizes political power to the 47 counties. Understanding how Kenyan farmers adapt to these challenges calls for researching the role of Kenyan agricultural cooperatives as these organizations are central to the livelihoods of a majority of the Kenyan population: a stunning 80% percent of Kenyans derive their income directly or indirectly through cooperative activities, and cooperatives account for 40% of all sales across the agriculture sector. As a key provider of social and economic services, cooperatives help farmers gain access to formal markets, engage government institutions, and improve their production practices. Thus the cooperative dairy sector, and the services and opportunities brokered through this sector, can be analyzed as a nexus, offering insight into how farmer collective action is both shaping local food system and facilitating farmer adaptation to Kenya’s changing agriculture governance landscape.
Through 22 qualitative semi-structured interviews with cooperative leaders, farmers, and key civil society and government informants, the research identified a number of emerging roles of cooperatives in the family farming sector:
Cooperatives as brokers of social and economic services: As semi-capitalist entities, small-scale dairy farmers are only partially embedded in formal markets, but engage in a number of social systems critical to farmer livelihoods. Thus cooperatives provide different services to support farmers in these overlapping spheres. Examining these organizations through a social economy theoretical lens illustrates how agricultural cooperatives provide both economically and socially-orientated services ranging from access-to-credit to political advocacy. In particular, a number of interviewees associated cooperative social services, such as agricultural knowledge transfer, with the concept of farmer “empowerment” and strengthening social cohesion. Thus access to social services is an important, although often overlooked, component of sovereign and sustainable small-scale farmer livelihoods.
Supporting farmer adaption to socio-political changes: In response to agricultural governance changes (political decentralization and economic liberalization) and the growing concentration of the dairy processing sector (which is putting economic pressures on dairy producers), agricultural cooperatives are increasingly attempting to adapt their farmer services to respond to the withdrawal of the State and market failures in the agriculture sector. But in many cases cooperatives are finding this transition to providing a broader spectrum of services difficult, often due to lack of technical capacity. Ultimately this means that cooperatives are increasingly playing a critical farmer support role, but are becoming economically under-cut by more market-oriented dairy businesses.
Drivers of inclusive development: Cooperative organizational structure, with farmer agency and democratic voting at its core, leads to more inclusive agricultural development opportunities. Through this more participatory producer organization model a diversity of farmers become leaders of their own development, but require greater (and challenging) coordination. On the other hand, more market-driven milk bulking associations, which are growing in number in Kenya and competing directly with cooperatives, trend toward supporting (and sometimes more efficiently) more commercial and larger-scale producers. How both of these models engage with farmers and government institutions have important implications for family farmer and agricultural development in Kenya.
The research concludes that agricultural development stakeholders have a strategic opportunity to support cooperatives in brokering farmer access to a broad range of both social and economic services for improved production, innovation, and social development. Given the prevalence of cooperatives in Kenya, and farmer trust in these organizations to deliver fair benefits and services to their members, cooperatives can play a critical facilitating role to link farmers to service organizations through coordinated and inclusive collective action, and in-turn strengthening smallholder agriculture in the country.
To access the full thesis you can click here and for more information you can contact Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, January 26 2017 at 16.00 p.m. Jan Douwe van der Ploeg gave his farewell address ‘The importance of peasant agriculture: a neglected truth‘. It was lived broadcasted at WURTV and can watched again here. As a tribute to his standing career the Rural Sociology Group has offered him a magazine with contributions by a selection of all those he encountered on his enduring journey as a ‘wandelleraar‘ (walking teacher) and were inspired with his plea for a peasant style of farming (or ‘boerenlandbouw‘ in Dutch) and, in turn, inspired him to continue. A struggle he will without doubt continue after his official retirement. Below a part of the introduction. The magazine can be downloaded here. Most contributions are in Dutch, but quite some in English as well. Continue reading →
As announced earlier, the Farewell address ‘The importance of Peasant Agriculture: a neglected truth’ by prof. Jan Douwe van der Ploeg will be tomorrow January 26, 2017 at 16.00 in the Auditorium of Wageningen University. It will be live broadcasted at WURTV, see the schedule, but can be watched again as well.
The earlier pre-announced vacancy for an Associate or Full Professor in Agrarian Sociology at the Rural Sociology Group is now published at the WUR vacancies webpage and thus open for application. We most warmly welcome your application.
2016 has been a fruitful year for the Rural Sociology Group and it had a smashing ending: an invitation by the EU-commission to prepare a Grant Agreement for the H2020 proposal ROBUST on rural-urban relations. Rural Sociology will be coordinating ROBUST. We will keep you posted.
Following his official retirement as Professor of Wageningen University, Jan Douwe van der Ploeg will give on January 26, 2017 his farewell address entitled ‘The importance of peasant agriculture‘. The ceremony will be in the Auditorium of Wageningen University from 16.00-17.00 CET and will be live streamed at WURTV. The ceremony is followed by a reception with the opportunity to congratulate Jan Douwe. Continue reading →
Are you interested on social movements? On Indigenous rights? On collectives and their practices? For years, many social scientists have been fascinated by the study of social movements and collective action. In my case, I am fascinated by the research of complex associations that frame and articulate their claims or grievances. Particularly, the processes of social transformation that have their grassroots within indigenous communities. Continue reading →
Op 20 september a.s. houdt Bettina Bock, universitair hoofddocent bij de leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie van Wageningen Universiteit, haar oratie als bijzonder hoogleraar aan de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (RUG) met als titel ‘Leegte en Ruimte; over bevolkingsdaling en leefbaarheid in Noord Nederland‘.
In de discussie over bevolkingsdaling en leefbaarheid ligt de nadruk doorgaans op leegte. Leegte die ontstaat als voorzieningen verdwijnen en de leegte die blijft als mensen verhuizen. In haar oratie stelt Bettina Bock naast leegte ook ruimte aan de orde. Ruimte voor vernieuwing en verandering, én ruimte voor nieuwe inzichten die ontstaat als we van perspectief wisselen en nieuwe vragen stellen. Lees verder het persbericht van RUG. Continue reading →