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

Evaluation of the LEADER programme by LAGs – A critical reflection


A Local Action Group; source Matteo Metta

August 29 Matteo Metta has succesfully defended his MSc-thesis ‘From Good Will to Good Use: a critical analysis of the LEADER evaluation‘ for the Master International Master in Rural Development. Below a summary of the thesis. Continue reading

Research in the Amazon: experiences of a RSO MSc student

My name is Carlo and I am currently conducting field research for my MSc-thesis in the Ecuadorian Amazon, with one of the seven indigenous ‘nationalities’: the Waorani. They inhabit a territory that has been recognised as an ethnic reserve by the government and which is partially encompassed by the famous Yasuní National Park. Because of its natural resource richness this has become a highly contested area: on one hand it is one of the global bio-diversity hotspots while on the other it lies above substantial crude oil reserves, the country’s main export. Oil exploration and extraction efforts have created the basic infrastructure, i.e. gravel roads, that allow for access in what would otherwise be remote areas of the jungle. They also have control over who has access to this area.P1120603

The Waorani inhabit their territories in small settlements (less than hundred inhabitants), which they refer to as communities. In most cases one community is not further away than a day or two walking distance from the other. However some communities are situated in very remote areas that can only be accessed via canoe or plane.

Life in the communities has its own pace as nature provides to many of the basic needs of everyday life. Lush vegetation provides abundant and constant supplies of food and copious rainfall is collected to be used for cooking, drinking and personal hygiene.

DSCN0340Visitors and foreigners are not that common but are kindly welcomed to the communities. A genuine interest is displayed by the inhabitants, especially by the children. A lot of patience is required to conduct research in this environment as the whole community tends to gather around the visitors, curious to witness whatever is being done, significantly slowing down the process as a result. The experience however is uniquely beautiful and absolutely unparalleled: a reminder of difference.

International Master Sciences of Rural Development (IMRD) – Application open till March 15 2015

IMRD Programme

IMRD Programme

Wageningen University is partner is the International Master of Science in Rural Development (IMRD) and providing an advanced module in Sociology of Rural Development in the 3rd semester.  Students can subsequently do their MSc-thesis in Wageningen. Till March 15 2015 students can apply for a scholarship. See the IMRD website for more information.

“Kuifje in India” (4)- International Master of Science in Rural Development (IMRD)

The Hindu (“India’s National Newspaper since 1878”) opened yesterday’s edition with agricultural news on the front-page. “Skyrocketing fertilizer prices floor farmers” was the title of the story about increasing costs of inputs. Small and marginal farmers, who constitute almost 80 per cent of the total of farmers in the State of Karnataka, has been hit hard by the skyrocketing prices of all fertilizers. The prices of most fertilizers doubled or even has gone up with over 250 per cent since 2010. It’s rather complicated why the costs are skyrocketing that high, but once again it makes clear how vulnerable marginal and small scale farming is for external costs. Going ‘organic’ or going for a maximum of ALEI (Agriculture on Low External Inputs) is the strategy that most of my colleagues at the UASB plea for, and they really ‘go for it’. Although a ‘top university’ in a scientific way (UASB is nr. 3 ranked of all Agricultural Universities in India), everyone I met so far isn’t just a ‘top scientist’, but also ‘a grass root worker’; very committed with the poor and the very poor, and always trying to find ways to help and to give mute people a voice or some kind of a future.

I participated many seminars and presentations, and I did speak with many professors, researches and teachers. And they all touched my heart, because their heart was always with the oppressed and the poor. I had the opportunity to meet the highest person in charge (Prof. dr. Gwonda, the Vice Chancellor) several times, and every time I spoke with him, I was impressed by his commitment with the message and mission of his institute. To help the poor and the very poor; to empower the weak and the marginalized.

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“Kuifje in India” (3) – International Master of Science in Rural Development (IMRD)

In ‘part 2’ I promised to tell more about ‘farming and rural life in India’. I have to break these promises. Like with so many other things in India, it is impossible to get a good idea about what’s really at stake. Remember the figures I gave you about the average spending in rural and urban India. They indicate wide spread poverty. But at the same time, India is worldwide nr. 1 producer of milk (17 percent of all worldwide cows & buffalo’s are located in India); India is nr. 2 in producing vegetables; the same score with rice; the same with fruit, etcetera. These incredible figures do impress as well. So I was thinking: where are these dairy farms, where are those orchards, where is the field with ‘sweet peppers’? Considering these things, I noticed that it is so hard to imagine what India really look likes. I flew to New Delhi and took some metro’s to get an impression of this city (I didn’t), and then flew to Bangalore to get dropped off at the campus just outside this enormous city. So what do I know? What have I seen? Some cows in the street, a bull near a Hindu temple. So nothing at all so far…..

If you look at the figures, you hardly can imagine that India is ‘one country’. India is 100 times as big as The Netherlands, and the population over 80 times. So the whole of India has (in average) almost the same population density as Holland; can you imagine…. ? It has 22 States (India is a federation) and there are 17 official languages. Languages, that are completely different, and although Hindu is the official language (and many people do speak more or less some basic English), the coherence of this nation is rather fragile (not to mention the differences in religion: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christians). So what about ‘farming and rural life‘ (the title of one of our RSO courses at the WUR); is it possible to get any idea about that?

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“Kuifje in India” (2) – International Master of Rural Development (IMRD)

A week has passed since I arrived at the campus of the University of Agricultural Sciences Bangalore (UASB) in the State of Karnataka, South West India. A week that looks like month’s to me. But it is good to notice that things get more and more familiar to me. The first days of my stay were both overwhelming, depressing and exhausting. Of course because of the climate (37 degrees Celsius, and monsoon season just started), but moreover because of the culture shock that happened to me when I arrived in New Delhi and later in Bangalore. Although many things still are completely strange to me, I manage more and more to find my way around. After a week, English conversation with Indian people is not that difficult anymore is it was in the beginning (although sometimes…), and also I get a little bit familiar with the names of my colleagues at the USAB, like prof. Shivamurthy, prof. Krishnamurthy, prof. Subbareddy, prof. Gayathredevi, prof. Srinivassappa and prof. Nanjappa. Since I have my own little apartment at the International Students Hostel and an office at the Dept. of Agr. Extension, I can find my way and rhythm in this melting pot of many different experiences. Especially the daily walk after work to Sahakaranagara to do my shopping’s makes me feel at home. Because I’m the only western guy (which means: long, tall and very white) at the campus, people get to know me and so we have our daily talks and jokes. By the way, when Indian people pronounce the name of the quarter (Sahakaranagara), it’s sounds like a mortar fire: takkatakkatakka.  Actually, that’s also the way many other names and words are pronounced: takkatakkatakka….

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“Kuifje in India” (1) – International Master of Rural Development (IMRD)

The University of Agricultural Sciences Bangalore (‘UASB’, in Hindu it is named ‘GVKV’) is ‘associate partner’ of the IMRD consortium. This International Master of Science in Rural Development (‘IMRD’) is an EU funded Erasmus Mundus Program, which originally (it started in 2004) was meant for non EU students to enter an European Master program. Since then, the program became more and more popular; also because it was opened for European students. But more changes took places and put the IMRD into the pictures: since some years, the IMRD not only has full partners (through the Atlantis program) in the US (Florida and Arkansas), but also cooperates with so-called ‘associated partners’ all over the world. These partners are in South Africa (Pretoria University), Beijing (China agricultural University) and Ecuador (Espol).

Students who enter into the IMRD program, have the opportunity to do a ‘specialized module’ in one of those ‘associated partner universities’ (the other 3 semesters has to be chosen out of Ghent, Berlin, Rennes, Nitra, Pisa or Wageningen). In this (‘spring’)semester, 3 IMRD students are in Bangalore: two of them (Basavaraj and Lauren) for their thesis (doing their data collection in India), and one (Tungaa) for the specialized module in agricultural economics.

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