Peasant Transformation in Kenya: a Focus on Agricultural Entrepreneurship With Special Reference to Improved Fruit and Dairy Farming in Mbeere, Embu County
Peasants are agricultural communities whose livelihoods revolve around their relations with land and the environment. Previous attempts to understand peasant transformation in Africa have often painted peasants as traditional and/or conservative societies that remain poor and backward because of fear to take the risks associated with experimenting with new or unfamiliar ideas. However, recent developments in rural Kenya tend to indicate that peasant societies are not static but receptive to new ideas and will especially embrace those that promise to take them out of poverty. Thus, although innovation is not new in peasant studies, it is entrepreneurship-driven innovation that has the potential for peasant transformation by effectively tackling poverty and creating employment and wealth. However, previous studies have tended to associate entrepreneurship with the urban-based commercial and industrial sectors and recently the jua kali or informal sector, thereby dismissing the potential of peasants to become agricultural entrepreneurs. This study examines how peasants read the environment and take deliberate steps to transform their lives for the better. Specifically, it is about how some Mbeere peasants from Embu County have taken themselves out of poverty by taking advantage of the market and transforming two innovations into profitable household-based agricultural enterprises i.e. improved fruit and dairy farming. It uses an eclectic approach that combines three theories: a Marxist-Leninist theoretical perspective to show how society evolves from one stage to another in time perspective through interaction with the environment, neo-liberalism to explain how peasants take advantage of the market to generate profit from agricultural production thereby becoming entrepreneurs or agrarian capitalists; and a Schumpeterian perspective to explain the relationship between innovation and entrepreneurship. It analyzes data collected over a 17-year period from a dynamic panel of 200 farmers and key informants. The study came out with three main findings. First, among peasant societies, the seeds of agricultural entrepreneurship are sowed through introduction of market-driven innovations and the transformation of such innovations into household businesses or enterprises. In Mbeere, it was through the introduction of improved fruit and dairy farming. Second, the emergence of household-based agricultural enterprise leads to household transformation mainly through increased incomes, poverty reduction, and wealth and employment creation. A major transformative effect is improved household wellbeing. Third and finally, agricultural entrepreneurship contributes to further transformation in the sense that sustained accumulation of wealth, coupled with associated local infrastructural development, leads to socio-cultural and structural differentiation which has class formation and other political implications. These findings appear to suggest that innovation and entrepreneurship can henceforth be studied together in or applied to agriculture. The study shows that peasants can willfully abandon traditional subsistence farming and embrace agriculture as a business and proactively interact with the market and the state to improve the quality of their lives. In the process, they acquire political relevance and visibility and local level development takes place. The study recommends a roping in of the private sector in rural development through specific policy interventions by the state and other institutions.
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