Agricultural cooperatives and the social economy in Kenya – IMRD thesis by Jordan Treakle

treakle-dairy-cooperative-in-kenyaLast autumn Jordan Treakle successfully defended his Master of Science thesis ‘Agricultural cooperatives and the social economy in Kenya’s changing governance landscape’ in Wageningen’s Rural Sociology Group to complete his International Master in Rural Development. Below a synopsis of the thesis.

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 jtreaks@gmail.com.

Pre-announcement Vacancy Associate or Full Professor in Agrarian Sociology

On the 5th of January 2017 we will open a vacancy for an associate or full professor in agrarian sociology. We are looking for someone with demonstrated excellence in research and education in the domain of agrarian and rural sociology. The associate/full professor will undertake independent research and participate in (and coordinate) international research projects, focusing on topics such as agricultural and rural development, rural-urban transformation processes, transitions towards regenerative agriculture, and the role of (multifunctional) agriculture in rural eco-economies. The associate/full professor will also teach courses for the Bachelor and Master programs International Development Studies and the Master program Organic Agriculture, and supervise Bachelor and Master thesis students for these programs. Other aspects of the job include project acquisition, training and supervision of PhD students and participation in various research and/or education committees. At least 40% of the time will be spent on research, a maximum of 40% on education and approximately 20% on other aspects.

Candidates applying for this position are expected to have the following qualifications:

  • A PhD degree in (agrarian or rural) sociology, human geography or related social science discipline;
  • An inspiring vision on agrarian sociology and the future challenges and priorities for agrarian studies;
  • An excellent track record in research in agrarian/rural sociology, proven by publications in key international journals and by the successful acquisition of research grants;
  • A relevant international academic network, combined with good connections with grassroots networks and policymakers (at different levels);
  • Ample empirical research experience, preferably in different geographical settings;
  • Proven experience in supervision of PhD candidates;
  • Excellent didactic qualities and the capacity to motivate and inspire students;
  • Teaching competences that comply with the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Program (LTHEP, in Dutch referred to as BKO, a system adopted by all Dutch universities) or willingness to follow the LTHEP;
  • Excellent writing skills;
  • Fluency in English and, if appropriate, willingness to learn Dutch.

If you are interested in this position, keep an eye on the vacancies webpage of Wageningen University or create your job alert, so you will be notified when the vacancy opens. Applications can be submitted between 5 January and 8 February 2017. From 9 January 2017 onwards you can contact me (email: han.wiskerke@wur.nl) for more information about the position.

The future of Peasant studies: Seminar and farewell address by Jan Douwe van der Ploeg

jd-seminar-1 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 agricultureThe 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

Boekpresentatie ‘Boeren in de Food Valley’

Voor het boek Boeren in de Food Valley sprak Janneke Blijdorp met vijftien agrariërs uit de Gelderse Vallei. Door schaalvergroting verdween de afgelopen decennia tachtig procent van de boerenbedrijven in dit gebied. De overgebleven boeren zetten in op de internationale voedselindustrie of juist op ambachtelijkheid en de lokale markt. De boeren vertellen in het boek over hun motivatie en toekomstverwachting. Vaak zijn zij al generaties lang met het gebied verbonden. Samen leveren de verhalen een verrassend divers beeld op van veerkrachtige ondernemers. Eric Veltink maakte fotoportretten van de boeren en hun bedrijf. U bent van harte welkom bij de presentatie van Boeren in de Food Valley op donderdagmiddag 24 November van 15.00 – 16.30 uur in De Schaapskooi op het erf van melkveehouder Cor den Hartog, Grote Veenderweg 10, 6741 MC Lunteren. Continue reading

Farmers’ perception of opportunities for farm development – PhD thesis by Ron Methorst

methorst-thesis-coverNovember 18, 2016 at 4.00 pm Ron Methorst will defend his PhD-thesis ‘Farmers’ perception of opportunities for farm development‘ in the Auditorium of Wageningen University.

The full thesis will be available after the defence ceremony. See the Abstract below. The ceremony will be live streamed by WURTV but can be viewed later as well.

Ron Methorst is affiliated at the Aeres University of Applied Sciences in Dronten (Aeres Hogeschool Dronten). For more information you can contact r.methorst@aeres.nl 

Continue reading

An impact assessment of potentially radical niche developments in the Dutch dairy sector – MSc-thesis Anne Verschoor

October 11 2016, Anne Verschoor successfully defended her MSc-thesis ‘An impact assessment of potentially radical niche developments in the Dutch dairy sector‘. She thus completed the Specialization Gastronomy of the Master Food Technology of Wageningen University. Applying a Social Science perspective in her thesis research was extra challenging but she managed very well to do so. Below an abstract of the thesis. Continue reading

A light shining on Cluj – Nyeleni Europe Forum for Food Sovereignty

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Participants discuss strategies to advance food sovereignty in Europe

Last week the second Nyeleni Europe forum for Food Sovereignty was held in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The Forum brought together different delegations from European countries and beyond representing producers, consumers, NGOs and researchers involved in the Food Sovereignty movement. The Forum set out create new initiatives and ties among people in opposition to the dominant food paradigm. Continue reading

Resistance in action in the Mayan region: “NO to GMO’s”

Mayan women in a concert of the Ma OGM campaign. Source Maria Boa

Mayan women in a concert of the Ma OGM campaign. Source maria Boa

August 18 María del Refugio Boa Alvarado successfully defended her MSc-thesis ‘Resistance in Action; Mobilization of Mayan beekeepers against GM soy: The case of the ‘Colectivo MA OGM‘ for the Master International Master in Rural Development. Below a post by Maria.

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

Assessing the Sustainability of Local and Global Food Chains – GLAMUR Special Issue

GLAMUR main messages

The EU-funded research project GLAMUR has been completed earlier this year. More info on the project, its sustainability performance-based approach and the findings can be accessed at the website. Next to all reports a synopsis of the project, its approach, the main findings and recommendations has been published, a leaflet with the main messages and finally a Special Issue of Sustainability: Sustainability Performance of Conventional and Alternative Food Chains was recently published containing eight open access articles following an editorial by Gianluca Brunori and Francesca Galli.

The Symbiotic Food System of Dar es Salaam – new publication

Just published in a Special Issue of Agriculture: ‘The Symbiotic Food System: An ‘Alternative’ Agri-Food System Already Working at Scale

Wegerif - WomanMaizeTradersUnderTree

Woman Maize Traders in Dar es Salaam, source Marc Wegerif

In this new article Marc Wegerif and Paul Hebinck show how small-scale and interdependent actors produce food and get it to urban eaters at a city feeding scale without large vertically- or horizontally-integrated corporate structures. The research from Dar es Salaam, a city of over 4.5 million people, reveals a ‘symbiotic food system‘ that is an existing alternative to the globally dominant agri-business model. Importantly, it can and does deliver at scale and in a way that better responds to the needs of people in poverty; both food eaters and food producers. Neither is the symbiotic food system static, it is growing in response to the needs of the city, but it does not grow through the popular notion of ‘scaling-up’, rather it grows through a much more equitable process of replication. The article gives particular attention to the functioning of market places and how new actors enter into the food system. These reveal that more important to the system than competition are various forms of collaboration based around symbiosis as a core ordering principle. Moreover, the paper shows that the symbiotic food system connects in many, often unexpected, ways the urban and rural spaces in Tanzania. There is much to learn from such a system which develops without significant support from the state or other agencies.

Also published in this Special Issue: Theorizing Agri-Food Economies by Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, discussing how agri-food economies evolve over time. A central thesis of the paper is that different theoretical representations not only reflect the differences in agro-economies and their developmental tendencies, but are also important drivers that actively shape the trajectories that they describe.