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.

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

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

Evaluation of the LEADER programme by LAGs – A critical reflection

matteo-metta

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

Business models in urban agriculture – MSc thesis by Shuang Liu

Urban Agriculture (Shuang Liu)

By Shuang Liu (MSc student in Organic Agriculture)

Urban agriculture is thriving across the world along with rapid urbanization. It is usually valued as a public-good generating activity for its social and ecological benefits. Recently, however, there is a growing trend of urban farmers becoming commercial and they seem to be extremely diversified in practice. Yet, little is known about the business approaches developed by entrepreneurial urban farmers.

In this research, I took urban agriculture as a revenue generating and job creation activity by focusing on more market-oriented projects. I tried to describe individual urban agriculture business operations under the framework of the business model. An online questionnaire was distributed worldwide followed with statistical analysis. The questionnaire was designed using nine business building blocks from Business Model Canvas. Based on the reported business characteristics, a cluster analysis was performed in order to find patterns underlying the diversity of their businesses. In total 46 respondents from 18 countries across 6 continents completed the questionnaire and as sucht contributed to the results of my thesis.

Great diversity in their business operations was found among the 46 projects. Various projects produce a wide range of products and conduct activities for diverse functions. They also manage different relationship with their customers and clients. Distinctions were also found between continents and projects with different purposes. All this heterogeneity brings challenges to describe and understand urban agriculture business. Thus an exploratory cluster analysis was adopted in order to simplify the diversity.

Drawing on the business characteristics, cluster analysis has generated five types of business model: Diversification, Primary Food Production, Value Differentiation, Service Provision and Innovative Operation. For more information about the diversity encountered and for the characteristics of the five business models, please have a look at my MSc thesis

This study provides a rough picture of how initiatives across the world are operating their projects. Classification of business models could be a precursor for future studies on topics such as the relationship between business model and performances, innovation of urban agriculture business models, and economic performance of urban agriculture etc.

For more information you can also contact me: lsabab@163.com

Exploring the integration of school gardens – MSc-thesis by Blair van Pelt

Dowtown Teaching farm in Idaho (photo the Downtown Teaching Farm

Downtown Teaching Farm in Boise, Idaho. Photo credit: The Downtown Teaching Farm.

School gardens are sprouting up everywhere these days, yet little is known about how they can be used as a teaching tool here in the Netherlands. School gardens are common in elementary schools, yet rare in secondary schools.

For her MSc-thesis Exploring how school gardens are integrated into secondary schools, Blair van Pelt has looked at 9 examples in the United States and the Netherlands where a garden or greenhouse is successfully being used as a teaching tool in secondary education. These examples were examined along practical, structural and ideological lines of questioning. What emerged from the cases is that school gardens can be used to teach, both theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

Inside the greenhouse at the Sage School, Hailey (Idaho)

Inside the greenhouse, Sage School in Hailey (Idaho)

Secondary school gardens facilitate learning in a community of practice and are a microcosm of civic ecology. In addition to being a fun way to teach science and other subjects, they give students an opportunity to participate in, and contribute to their communities in a result-oriented and hands-on manner that connects both local and global social and ecological issues.

Agriculture school garden in Apeldoorn (NL)

Agriculture school garden in Apeldoorn (NL)

Additionally, it emerged that the needs, goals, opportunities and challenges of a secondary school garden are different and evolve depending on which stage of development the school garden is in; from which, a new theory sprouted.

The MSc-thesis provides an in-depth look into the nine examples of successful school gardens in secondary education and provides recommendations that are meant to provide guidance and serve as an inspiration for aspiring schools and policy makers.

For more information contact Blair van Pelt: blair.vanpelt@gmail.com

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.

‘Gij zult participeren’: Een discoursanalyse van moestuin-projecten voor minima in Nederland (MSc-thesis)

Door Monique Jongenburger (Boerefijn) – MSc-student International Development Studies

Vijf jaar Internationale Ontwikkelingsstudies in Wageningen hebben me kritisch gemaakt op ontwikkelingshulp en interventie. Worden de deelnemers van projecten serieus genomen? Ik was dan ook geboeid door de uitzending van EenVandaag over moestuin-projecten voor minima in Nederland: “Geef geen geld maar groenten”. Kunnen Nederlandse ‘armen’ niet met geld omgaan? Ik besloot dat ik dit onderwerp verder wilde onderzoeken. Dit leidde tot de onderzoeksvraag van mijn thesis: Welk discours leeft er bij de initiatiefnemers van moestuin-projecten voor minima in Nederland over minima?

Om mijn vraag te beantwoorden heb ik een discoursanalyse toegepast. Ik heb me hierbij gebaseerd op de theorie en methoden van Foucault en de politicologen Bacchi en Yanow. Voor de analyse heb ik documenten verzameld over de projecten en bij zeventien initiatiefnemers een semi-gestructureerd interview afgenomen.

In heel Nederland bleken soort gelijke projecten te zijn opgekomen: voedseltuinen, minimatuinen en volkstuintjes voor minima. Al snel bleek dat de projecten in de eerste instantie op elkaar lijken maar verschillende doelen hebben. Dit leidde tot een typologie van vier soorten projecten: de voedselbank-tuin, de duurzaamheid-tuin, de dagbesteding-tuin en voedselzekerheid-tuin. De initiatiefnemers presenteren elk een eigen probleem waar hun tuinproject een oplossing voor is; een tekort aan groenten bij de voedselbank, afstand tussen mensen en voedsel, inactiviteit van minima en te dure groenten. Continue reading

M.Sc. thesis: New opportunities and new constraints for Maasai livelihoods

 Part 3: Dispatch on M.Sc. thesis results    

Florian Neubauer has been working on a M.Sc. thesis with RSO titled `New opportunities and new constraints – Understanding changes in land tenure and livelihoods among the pastoral Maasai in southern Kenya´. In his third and last post, he shares some of the thesis` main findings. Florian’s second post can be found here.

Localized coping strategies increasingly gain in importance: Here, cattle which has accessed a fenced area where grass is preserved for stressful times.

Localized coping strategies increasingly gain in importance: Here, cattle which has accessed a fenced area where grass is preserved for stressful times.

Background

Pastoral livelihoods in Africa are characterized by a high reliance on strategic migration and livestock keeping as a source of social and economic wellbeing. However, over the past decades pastoral livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa were increasingly exposed to various pressures like a progressing privatization of land. The experiences of the Maasai in southern Kenya provide an illustrative example for livelihood changes due to land privatization. During the 1970s, a transformation from land held in trust to individual ‘group ranches’, as land communally owned and managed, took place in the Maasailand. During the 1980s, title deeds were privatized and group ranches subdivided into smaller, individually owned ranches. Focusing on Maasai households, this research analysed – with specific regards to impacts and implications on food (in)security – how these changes in land tenure shape the livelihoods of Maasai pastoralists in southern Kenya.

Main results – Summary

The research suggests that changes in land tenure – notably,  the privatization of title deeds and the commodification of land – shape Maasai livelihoods and can contribute to increase a household`s food security. It suggests furthermore that Maasai actively adapt their livelihood strategies as a result of these changes and use(d) the new land tenure system to develop new livelihood strategies. However, these new or changed livelihood strategies impact Maasai pastoralism both as a production system and as a socio-cultural way of life.

Continue reading

Research Dispatches: Karibu mzungu!

This post is the first of three reports  by RSO student Florian Neubauer about the MSc research he is conducting in Kenya. Florian has kindly agreed to blog about his research and to provide us with a review of :

  1.  First reflections on researching in Kenya and his host institution, Maasai Mara University.
  2.  Living among the Maasai with a focus on their culture and way of living.
  3.  Results of the thesis. 
Main entrance of Maasai Mara University with the student library in the background.

Main entrance of Maasai Mara University with the student library in the background.

Part 1: Introduction and Maasai Mara University (MMU)

`Karibu´ and ´karibu mzungu` – `Welcome´ or `welcome white person´ – are probably two of the most frequent sentences, I have heard here, since I arrived in Kenya around three weeks ago. Here in the south of the country, I am conducting the field work for my master thesis with RSO group on Understanding changes in land tenure and livelihoods among the pastoral Maasai in southern Kenya.

Over the past decades, pastoral Maasai have been increasingly exposed to various pressures to their pastoral livelihoods such as demographic development, the spread of national and games parks or an increased privatization and commercialization of land. One of the biggest pressures and also the focus of my research are changes in land tenure, or more specifically, transformation processes from formerly communally owned land towards increasingly individualized and privatized land (ownerships) – a development thatroughly began during the 1970s and 1980s and continues since then. I am interested in investigating how this transformation in land tenure is shaping and impacting Maasai pastoral livelihoods and Maasai households on a local level, with a specific focus on implications and impacts on local food (in)security. I will explore the current situation at the local level, as well as retrospectively the past decision-making processes of households, in order to understand when, how and why a household decided for instance (not) to change, diversify or maintain a certain livelihood strategy.      Continue reading