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

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

Thesis opportunity: Thuisafgehaald

Note: as I am looking for a Dutch-speaking student for this thesis, the text of this post is in Dutch.

Het stedelijk voedsellandschap verandert. Bestaande kanalen bieden andere soorten voedsel aan (supermarkten verkopen steeds meer biologische en/of lokale producten) en er ontstaan nieuwe kanalen die het mogelijk maken op andere manieren aan voedsel te komen (kopen bij de boer, zelf verbouwen). Consumenten hebben hiervoor zowel ethische overwegingen (diervriendelijker, milieubewuster consumeren) als sociale overwegingen (elkaar ontmoeten rondom eten). Ondanks het bestaan van al die verschillende kanalen kopen de meeste mensen het grootste deel van hun voedsel in de supermarkt. Blijkbaar is het in de praktijk nog best lastig om de supermarkt te omzeilen. 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

Exploring Consumer-Producer Relationships and Consumer Involvement Practices in AFN in Oldenburg

Cover Prause

MSc-thesis by Katharina Prause, MOA student Wageningen University

June 2016 Katharina Prause completed her MSc-thesis for the Master of Organic Agriculture of Wageningen University. The full thesis is available here. Below an abstract of her thesis. Continue reading

Beyond binary thinking

Marit de Looijer successfully defended her thesis “Beyond Binary Thinking, A spatial negotiations perspective on refugee tarries in South Lebanon”. In her thesis she discussed refugee settlement and settlement processes from a socio-spatial perspective. This perspective allowed her to move beyond the binary camp/non-camp characterization of refugee hosting and understand refugee settlement and settlement processes as hybrid and fuzzy. In her thesis she also discusses the policy implication of this perspective. Below the abstract/summary of her thesis.

MSc Thesis - Marit de Looijer - Final Version - May 3, 2016“Lebanon presents a game-changer for our thinking about and protection approaches to refugee hosting and settlement processes. In Lebanon, refugees from Syria do not live in large, formal camps, but reside scattered over the country in and around cities and villages, which affects relations between refugees, host communities and other actors involved in the country’s hybrid political order. This research has investigated how refugees and host communities negotiate the use and meaning of space with regard to the establishment and experience of refugee tarries, community formation, governance and livelihood strategies. It is an ethnography of social and spatial ordering based on fourteen weeks of fieldwork at a time when Lebanon’s refugee hosting situation had outgrown the state of emergency, but had not yet become protracted. The findings suggest that bureaucratic labels that reflect binary thinking, such as camp versus out-of-camp refugees or self-settled versus assisted settlement, should be perceived as extremes of a range on which refugees move strategically or subject to changing circumstances. This implicates acknowledging the hybridity, diversity and informality of the socio-spatial dialectic around refugee hosting. Consequently, academics, policy makers and aid workers should rethink the debate on displacement versus embeddedness into one about socio-spatial bordering, human (im)mobility and hybridity of places, and adjust their interventions accordingly.”

Supervisor-examiner: Bram Jansen; Second reader-co-examiner: Joost Jongerden


MSc Thesis opportunity: gardening for cancer survivors

In the Netherlands, 1 out of 3 people get cancer; about 100,000 individuals per year. More than 60% of those diagnosed with cancer survive. However, survivors often experience long-term side effects of cancer and its treatment, which greatly influences their quality of life, ability to function, success in re-integration in social processes, and long-term survival.

Evidence shows that a healthy diet and regular physical activity are beneficial in cancer prognosis. Most current intervention programs are focused on dietary advice and exercise programs in gyms. However, such programs are hardly appealing to the majority of cancer survivors. We introduce a novel approach which may better fit the needs, possibilities and interests of cancer survivors: gardening. Scientific research underlines the virtues of gardening: it prolongs life, improves mental and physical well-being, increases quality of life and acuity, and  supports social cohesion. Moreover it can help to increase consumption of (home-grown) plant foods.

The idea of offering cancer patients the possibility to work in gardens is based on a similar project in the USA. The aim of this thesis is to study this program, specifically by investigating it from the point of view of the patients – how did they perceive the program – and to compare this to the situation in the Netherlands. What is available for (former) patients in both countries, what do survivors need or want, and how would (or in the case of the USA: how did) gardening fit in people’s rehabilitation programs? We invite you to study this from the perspective of Social Practice Theory, which focuses on habits and routines in daily life.

We are looking for a motivated MSc student that is interested in writing a thesis with the Rural Sociology Group on the topic of gardening for cancer survivors. The thesis will consist of a literature-based study, but the student is also invited to travel to the USA to interview (ex) patients and study a similar project there. The report will preferably be written in English.

More information? Contact Esther Veen (

A politics of appearance

Hanne Wiegel successfully defended her minor thesis “A politics of appearance: a theoretical exploration of private accommodation initiatives for refugees”. Hereby a summary of the thesis, which received qualifications such as “well-structured””, “good logical reasoning”  and “theoretically sophisticated” .

“Publicly organized asylum seeker accommodation in Germany often involves a strict spatial and social segregation of asylum seekers from the wider society, which contributes to turning individuals who seek asylum into an abstract, impersonal category. For the individual asylum seeker, this creates a situation of harmful visibility vis-à-vis the state and harmful invisibility vis-à-vis the receiving society. Against this background, this paper will theoretically discuss the socio-political implications of recently developed civil society initiatives that organize the accommodation of asylum seekers in private housing arrangements in which asylum seekers live side-by-side non-refugees. Drawing on the approach of autonomous migration, Rancière’s disruptive politics and Butler’s performative theory of appearance, I argue that these civil society initiatives can be understood as providing spaces of appearance for asylum seekers to become visible as individuals amongst non-refugees. This can be considered as a performative act of disruption, changing the spatial and social ordering of asylum (accommodation) policies. Far from glorifying the effects of private accommodation for asylum seekers, however, I argue that these do not affect the legal status of the asylum seeker, but that nevertheless living side-by-side non-refugees can change asylum seekers’ invisibility vis-à-vis the civil society, and allows for personal encounters and individuation which might enhance their social emplacement.”

Key-words Germany, asylum seeker accommodation, ordering, civil society, dissensus, appearance

Possible Thesis Topics: Trends in Global Food Security Governance

We are looking for good and motivated BSc and MSc students to conduct research on the following four topics:

  • Deconstructing the discourse of evidence-based policy making.

Project: Calls for evidence-based policy making are increasing evident in global food security policy processes, and beyond. For example, the follow up and review process for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to be “rigorous and based on evidence, informed by country-led evaluations and data which is high-quality, accessible, timely, reliable and disaggregated” (UN General Assembly, 2015, para. 74). Behind this push for evidence-based decision making lies a set of highly political questions about what evidence is considered appropriate? How should it be selected? Why? And by whom?

This thesis project will identify and analyse calls for evidence-based policy making made in food security policy processes at the multinational level so as to better understand the political nature of evidence and the implications this has for policies and claims to knowledge and expertise. Continue reading

BSc Thesis vacatures: o.a. Gezondheidszorg & Krimp en Vluchtelingenopvang

BSc Thesis vacatures: o.a. Gezondheidszorg & Krimp en Vluchtelingen opvangMocht je geïnteresseerd zijn in één van de volgende onderwerpen, dan zouden we je graag begeleiden tijdens het schrijven van je BSc Thesis. Momenteel zoeken we studenten voor de volgende onderwerpen:

Bachelor Gezondheid en Maatschappij:

  1. Verkenning van onderzoek naar initiatieven om (eerstelijns) gezondheidszorg op een nieuwe manier veilig te stellen in plattelandsgebieden, die te maken hebben bevolkingsdaling. Daarbij gaat het mij met name om ervaringen elders in Europa. Het achterliggende probleem is dat het steeds moeilijk wordt om huisartsen te vinden die zich willen vestigen in plattelandsgebieden. Ik ben betrokken bij een groep huisartsen in Nederland die nieuwe mogelijkheden willen verkennen om huisartsenzorg zo te organiseren die tegemoet komt aan de zorgvraag vanuit de bewoners maar het bieden van zorg ook aantrekkelijker maakt voor de nieuwe generatie huisartsen.
27-02-2008. Ganzedijk. Nederland. Het Oost-Groningse dorp Ganzedijk moet tegen de vlakte ivm. de leegloop. De grond wordt teruggegeven aan de natuur. Foto : Karel Zwaneveld

Foto : Karel Zwaneveld

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