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Local gender contract and adaptive capacity in smallholder irrigation farming: a case study from the Kenyan drylands
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Human Geography.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6811-304X
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Human Geography.
2015 (English)In: Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, ISSN 0966-369X, E-ISSN 1360-0524, Vol. 22, no 5, 644-661 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article presents the local gender contract of a smallholder irrigation farming community in Sibou, Kenya. Women's role in subsistence farming in Africa has mostly been analyzed through the lens of gender division of labor. In addition to this, we used the concept of ‘local gender contract’ to analyze cultural and material preconditions shaping gender-specific tasks in agricultural production, and consequently, men's and women's different strategies for adapting to climate variability. We show that the introduction of cash crops, as a trigger for negotiating women's and men's roles in the agricultural production, results in a process of gender contract renegotiation, and that families engaged in cash cropping are in the process of shifting from a ‘local resource contract’ to a ‘household income contract.’ Based on our analysis, we argue that a transformation of the local gender contract will have a direct impact on the community's adaptive capacity climate variability. It is, therefore, important to take the negotiation of local gender contracts into account in assessments of farming communities' adaptive capacity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 22, no 5, 644-661 p.
Keyword [en]
local gender contract, climate variability, East African drylands, smallholder irrigation farming, gendered adaptive capacity
National Category
Human Geography
Research subject
Geography with Emphasis on Human Geography
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-101283DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2014.885888OAI: diva2:700162
Sida - Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
Available from: 2014-03-03 Created: 2014-03-03 Last updated: 2015-09-15Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. East African Hydropatriarchies: An analysis of changing waterscapes in smallholder irrigation farming
Open this publication in new window or tab >>East African Hydropatriarchies: An analysis of changing waterscapes in smallholder irrigation farming
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis examines the local waterscapes of two smallholder irrigation farming systems in the dry lands of East African in a context of socio-ecological changes. It focuses on three aspects: institutional arrangements, gender relations and landscape investments. 

This thesis is based on a reflexive analysis of cross-cultural, cross-language research, particularly focusing on the role of field assistants and interpreters, and on member checking as a method to ensure validity.

Flexible irrigation infrastructure in Sibou, Kenya, and Engaruka, Tanzania, allow farmers to shift the course of water and to extend or reduce the area cultivated depending on seasonal rainfall patterns. Water conflicts are avoided through a decentralized common property management system. Water rights are continuously renegotiated depending on water supply. Water is seen as a common good the management of which is guided by mutual understanding to prevent conflicts through participation and shared information about water rights.

However, participation in water management is a privilege that is endowed mostly to men. Strict patriarchal norms regulate control over water and practically exclude women from irrigation management. The control over water usage for productive means is a manifestation of masculinity. The same gender bias has emerged in recent decades as men have increased their engagement in agriculture by cultivating crops for sale. Women, because of their subordinated position, cannot take advantage of the recent livelihood diversification. Rather, the cultivation of horticultural products for sale has increased the workload for women who already farm most food crops for family consumption. In addition, they now have to weed and harvest the commercial crops that their husbands sell for profit. This agricultural gender divide is mirrored in men´s and women´s response to increased climate variability. Women intercrop as a risk adverting strategy, while men sow more rounds of crops for sale when the rain allows for it. Additionally, while discursively underestimated by men, women´s assistance is materially fundamental to maintaining of the irrigation infrastructure and to ensuring the soil fertility that makes the cultivation of crops for sale possible.

In sum, this thesis highlights the adaptation potentials of contemporary smallholder irrigation systems through local common property regimes that, while not inclusive towards women, avoid conflicts generated by shifting water supply and increased climate variability.

To be able to assess the success and viability of irrigation systems, research must be carried out at a local level. By studying how local water management works, how conflicts are adverted through common property regimes and how these systems adapt to socio-ecological changes, this thesis provides insights that are important both for the planning of current irrigation schemes and the rehabilitation or the extension of older systems. By investigating the factors behind the consistent marginalization of women from water management and their subordinated role in agricultural production, this study also cautions against the reproduction of these discriminatory norms in the planning of irrigation projects.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, 2015. 81 p.
Meddelanden från Kulturgeografiska institutionen vid Stockholms universitet, ISSN 0585-3508 ; 150
smallholder irrigation farming, local gender contract, landesque capital, common property regimes, dry lands, feminist epistemology, member checking, Kenya, Tanzania
National Category
Human Geography
Research subject
Geography with Emphasis on Human Geography
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-120591 (URN)978-91-7649-206-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-11-06, De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 14:00 (English)
Sida - Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SWE2009-210

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following paper was unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 4: Manuscript.


Available from: 2015-10-15 Created: 2015-09-14 Last updated: 2015-11-03Bibliographically approved

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