resourceful farmers and vulnerable livelihoods n.
Skip this Video
Loading SlideShow in 5 Seconds..
Resourceful farmers and vulnerable livelihoods: PowerPoint Presentation
Download Presentation
Resourceful farmers and vulnerable livelihoods:

Loading in 2 Seconds...

play fullscreen
1 / 1

Resourceful farmers and vulnerable livelihoods: - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

  • Uploaded on

Continuous community based studies. Testing of technologies. Dialogue of local & outsiders’ knowledge. “Dynamic expertise”. (New) Technology design. Up-scaling to other communities. Knowledge sharing. Documen- tation.

I am the owner, or an agent authorized to act on behalf of the owner, of the copyrighted work described.
Download Presentation

Resourceful farmers and vulnerable livelihoods:

An Image/Link below is provided (as is) to download presentation

Download Policy: Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your information and personal use and may not be sold / licensed / shared on other websites without getting consent from its author.While downloading, if for some reason you are not able to download a presentation, the publisher may have deleted the file from their server.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - E N D - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Presentation Transcript
resourceful farmers and vulnerable livelihoods


community based


Testing of


Dialogue oflocal & outsiders’knowledge



Up-scaling to other communities



Figure 1. Building, studying, and sharing“dynamic expertise” for soil fertility management

Bad weather

Limited land (land rights)

Marital / family disputes

Crop pests

Low labour (out-migration, etc.)

Ill health

Soil fertility

Costly food

Limited income (lack of skills, markets..)

Hot topic


How can integrated natural resource management truly build on local knowledge?

Resourceful farmers and vulnerable livelihoods:

Joshua J. Ramisch – School of International Development and Global Studies (SIDGS) –

Innovation and Sustainable Development in agriculture and Food – June 28 / July 1, 2010

Context: The Strengthening “Folk Ecology” Initiative (FEI)

The FEI began with the premise – common to much participatory action research – that farmers and professional researchers have different (and therefore potentially complementary) knowledges and skills. An iterative process of dialogue between actors tested and developed new technologies and techniques using both collective and individual experimentation. This created an evolving “dynamic expertise” for better soil fertility management, shared by farmers and scientists.

Social scientists and soil scientists from the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute (TSBF-CIAT) worked from 2001-2008 with farmer self-help groups and other partners (NGOs, Ministry of Agriculture, Kenyan Universities) in six western Kenyan sites.

  • High-potential areas, bimodal rainfall (1100-1800 mm/yr)
  • High population densities (400-1400 people/km2)
  • Very low soil fertility (N-, P-depleted)
  • Very small farms (< 1 acre)
  • 4 Luyia (Bantu) communities, 1 Luo, 1 Teso (Nilotic)
  • Long history of political-economic marginalization and out-migration
  • 30 farmer groups participating by 2008

1. “Soil fertility management”

The importance of soil (and soil fertility) varies greatly in rural livelihoods, especially where land sizes are rarely adequate to produce 12 months of food even with excellent yields and crop husbandry. The tendency of scientists in the project team to define “soil fertility” (Figure 2) using purely “soil”-based factors was at odds with farmers’ interest in crop production as part of broader livelihood concerns (e.g. markets and farm size).

Contested knowledges

2. “Vulnerability”

Outsiders easily conflate environmental and social dimensions of vulnerability, as if being a “smallholder farmer” makes one inherently vulnerable. If this is the case and “depleted soils” and “socio-economic marginalisation” are universal, such “vulnerability” cannot help identify populations for problem solving or technology development.

In the literature of environmental hazards, “vulnerability” relates to exposure and sensitivity to external risks whose risk must be managed by technical interventions. Such an analysis often makes all smallholder “objects of concern” (e.g. for having soils low in Phosphorus, or plagued by Striga weed). Social science critiques of such analyses that defend the ability of smallholders’ “coping strategies” to diversify and adapt to environmental or other challenges may, however, under-estimate the long term impacts of deprivation and environmental degradation.

Local terms for “vulnerability” (e.g. umaskini – poverty) would be applied to both soils (without productive potential) and people (without money or other assets). However, in a context where “vulnerability” attracts development assistance (participatory or otherwise), the term is strategically deployed. Even if livelihood and personal circumstances produce multiple forms of vulnerability or resilience, the importance of “soil-related” problems would be elevated or minimized depending on people’s perceptions of the FEI and its activities.


The Strengthening “Folk Ecology” Initiative (FEI) was a community-based learning and innovation project that addressed smallholders’ soil fertility management and ecological knowledge in western Kenya1,2. The challenges of sustaining and “scaling up” this type of approach relate to mediating and managing the involvement of community members (or their representatives) in longer term “participatory” processes of priority setting and development research that also required the ongoing participation of both natural and social scientists.

The contested nature of “local knowledge” (about both ecological phenomena and also who constitutes the most “vulnerable” group(s) within a community).

Conflicting perceptions of previous or ongoing development (or research) practices, which have significant, wide-ranging, and often unpredictable implications.

Dialogue between knowledge systems (such as between scientists themselves or between researchers and farmers) must therefore acknowledge the non-unitary nature of “local” knowledge(s), building on this diversity through a continuously iterative process that acknowledges livelihoods that are broader than a “vulnerability” based on low soil fertility.

Figure 2. Different explanations for low crop yields as given by farmers and scientists (Focus groups, Ebusiloli sub-location, 2001)

3. Conflicting perceptions of development practices

While an ebb and flow of interest is normal in community-based projects, the challenges of sustaining the participation of different types group members were distinctly different. Many from the following groups “opted out” or stayed away from FEI activities:

  • More privileged, “vocal” members?
  • Expectations (e.g. not receiving recognition or rewards; not “facilitated” or hired by the project to lead groups; not selected to receive foreign visitors)
  • Frustrations & personality clashes (e.g. customary leadership roles were challenged by “participatory” processes; rumours were spread that project had more resources than it was sharing with the groups)
  • “Dry content” (e.g. “Lessons” from the FEI were already known to them, voiced as “I am doing better than the rest of these people anyway”)
  • “Silent” or marginalised members?
  • Unclear benefits (e.g. long group meetings, slow learning curves; “This thing began so nicely but it is clear that the project does not mean to follow through”)
  • Frustrations (e.g. some groups formed on exclusive lineage basis or leaders abused power; women unable culturally to contradict male in-laws in public settings)
  • Content not linked to top priorities (e.g. soil fertility less crucial than land rights; food security tied to off-farm opportunities and diversification rather than intensified cultivation?)
  • Soil and other technical scientists
  • Long process (e.g. much repetition of previous learning as new groups formed or members joined)
  • Disciplinary frustrations (e.g. research topics identified by local groups often only barely “soil”-related, if at all; experimental design for collective plots did not follow standard protocols & therefore hard or impossible to interpret statistically; social science activities felt more “like journalism” than like “science”)

Figure 3. Multiple dimensions of “vulnerability” that individuals or households in western Kenya might face (or strategically present)


Although the FEI did succeed in building a dynamic expertise in soil fertility management in the participating communities, the research and innovation process faced the complexities of working with local knowledge. “Soil fertility management”, the entry point for the FEI in the sites, was and continued to be a contested concept. “Vulnerability” was either strategically deployed to justify participation or exclusion from the groups and their activities, or was so broad or un-nuanced a concept as to be useless in identifying relevant groups for further work. Finally, the very different perceptions and expectations of the FEI (and other development interventions) by various stakeholders required constant attention, mediation, and management. Scaling up the successes of knowledge-based, participatory research and development is therefore not easy or self-sustaining, and probably requires greater resources up to and after a project’s completion than most donors are willing to invest.


1. Ramisch, J.J., Misiko, M.T., Ekise, I.E., Mukalama, J.B. (2006) Strengthening “Folk Ecology”: Community-based learning for integrated soil fertility management, western Kenya. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 4(2): 154-168.

2. Misiko, M. (2007) Fertile Ground? Soil fertility management and the African smallholder. Ph.D. Thesis, Wageningen University, The Netherlands. (146pp)

Key words: local knowledge; participatory research; community-based learning and innovation; soil fertility; scaling up; Kenya

To know more

w w w . i s da 2 0 1 0 . n e t