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Actors and Institutions Governing Common Pool Resource Use for an Agro-Industrial Food System in Northwest Mount Kenya

Mariah Ngutu1, Salome Bukachi1, Tobias Haller2

1University of Nairobi, Institute of Anthropology, Gender and African Studies, Kenya
2University of Bern, Institute of Social Anthropology, Switzerland

Actors and institutions governing common-pool resource use for an agro-industrial food system An anthropological study explored export horticulture in Northwest Mount Kenya as a food system. It examined the actors, described the relationships between actors and institutions (formal and informal); established actor perceptions of food security in export horticulture, and established how the existing institutional settings and changes in export horticulture relate to other food systems in Northwest Mount Kenya. The study adopted an exploratory design and utilized the new institutionalism theoretical approach to look into the actors, relationships between actors, perceptions, and institutional settings within and outside the food system. IDIs, KIIs, FGDs, and observations were used to collect qualitative data. The Institutional settings of export horticulture were described from an emic perspective as changing and defining the operations of the food system. The Actors, Rules, and Regulations Linked to Export Horticulture Production and Access to Land and Water as Common Pool Resources in Laikipia County, Northwest Mount Kenya. The paper discusses how the export-oriented commercial horticultural investment sector viewed as an agro-industrial food system is driven by neoliberal privatization of land and resource policies feeding the global demand for vegetables shapes the access to often short-term livelihoods by offering women and poorly paid jobs and, increasing their workload as becomes evident from women’s perspective. Furthermore, the agro-industrial food system with more bargaining power to select and transform institutionalized access to former common pool resources is competing for these scarce resources in a semi-arid zone with local food systems such as agro-pastoralism and smallholder agriculture vital local livelihoods and food security. Therefore, their livelihood resilience as local actors is undermined and therefore increasing the potential for conflicts across the different food systems.

Acteurs et institutions régissant l'utilisation des ressources du pool commun pour un système alimentaire agro-industriel dans le nord-ouest du mont Kenya

Mariah Ngutu1, Salome Bukachi1, Tobias Haller2

1 Université de Nairobi, Institut d'anthropologie, de genre et d'études africaines, Kenya
2 Université de Berne, Institut d'anthropologie sociale, Suisse

Acteurs et institutions régissant l’utilisation des ressources communes pour un système alimentaire agro-industriel Une étude anthropologique a exploré l’horticulture d’exportation dans le nord-ouest du mont Kenya en tant que système alimentaire. Il a examiné les acteurs, décrit les relations entre les acteurs et les institutions (formelles et informelles); a établi la perception des acteurs de la sécurité alimentaire dans l’horticulture d’exportation, et a établi comment les cadres institutionnels existants et les changements dans l’horticulture d’exportation sont liés à d’autres systèmes alimentaires dans le nord-ouest du mont Kenya. L’étude a adopté une conception exploratoire et a utilisé la nouvelle approche théorique de l’institutionnalisme pour examiner les acteurs, les relations entre les acteurs, les perceptions et les cadres institutionnels à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur du système alimentaire. Les IDI, KII, FGD et les observations ont été utilisés pour collecter des données qualitatives. Le cadre institutionnel de l’horticulture d’exportation a été décrit d’un point de vue émique comme modifiant et définissant les opérations du système alimentaire. Les acteurs, règles et règlements liés à la production horticole d’exportation et à l’accès à la terre et à l’eau en tant que ressources communes dans le comté de Laikipia, au nord-ouest du mont Kenya. Le document examine comment le secteur de l’investissement horticole commercial axé sur l’exportation, considéré comme un système alimentaire agro-industriel, est stimulé par la privatisation néolibérale des politiques foncières et des ressources qui alimentent la demande mondiale de légumes façonne l’accès à des moyens de subsistance souvent à court terme en offrant aux femmes et aux pauvres des emplois rémunérés et, en augmentant leur charge de travail comme cela devient évident du point de vue des femmes. En outre, le système alimentaire agro-industriel avec plus de pouvoir de négociation pour sélectionner et transformer l’accès institutionnalisé aux anciennes ressources de la piscine commune est en concurrence pour ces ressources rares dans une zone semi-aride avec les systèmes alimentaires locaux tels que l’agro-pastoralisme et l’agriculture paysanne des moyens de subsistance locaux vitaux et la sécurité alimentaire. Par conséquent, leur résilience des moyens d’existence en tant qu’acteurs locaux est compromise et accroît donc le potentiel de conflits entre les différents systèmes alimentaires.

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9 Responses

  1. Sad story to see local food systems being taken over by food production for export. Especially now that COVID-19 may disrupt the global supply chains. What are ways local communities could improve their livelihood security?

    1. 1. Re-assessing common pool resources governance and seeking more equitable distribution accross the food systems. Currently within the study area most of the WRUAs governance is influenced by the actors contributing more resources and currently it is the agro-industrial food systems. Local food systems could seek to engage access to especially water (to enable food production) by becoming more active in water resource user associations (WRUAs) and in this way have a higher bargaining power as their representation is more solid.
      2. Local food systems exploring climate smart agriculture to enable food production within their limited resource settings and utilize the common pool resources more sustainably yet have food needs met.
      3. Working with agro-industrial food systems to manage post-harvest food waste. Re-assessing the food standards regulations to allow for ‘food waste’ to be accessible for local food systems actors for consumption and in this way contribute directly to food security.

    2. Ngutu M., Bukachi S., Olungah C.O., Haller T (2018). Opportunities and Challenges in Export Horticulture as an Agro-industrial Food System: Case Study of Northwest Mount Kenya Region. International Journal on Food System Dynamics 2018, 9 (5). 470-483; doi: 10.18461/ijfsd.v9i5.957

      Ngutu M., Bukachi S., Olungah C.O., Kiteme B., Kaeser F., Haller T (2018). The Actors, Rules and Regulations Linked to Export Horticulture Production and Access to Land and Water as Common Pool Resources in Laikipia County, Northwest Mount Kenya, Land 2018, 7, 110; doi:10.3390/land7030110

  2. Curious about the identification of land as a common pool resource given the picture in the background. If the horticulture farm is the one shown in the background with a center pivot, is the land a CPR, meaning the resource is non-excludable and extractable (rivalrous)? Or is this private land and therefore a private good? I had to ask myself these questions for the study of a community managed irrigated farm (see my presentation in the water commons section).

    1. Yes the 70 percent of the land for horticulture farm is a largely a private good. However , 30 percent is on 5 year lease. Only 60 percent of the horticulture farm land is under production the 40 percent has been left for prospects as well as for conservation. This unutilised portion of land has under informal arrangements been opened up by the horticulture farm to local food systems for pasture, but at times there is incidences of trespass by livestock into land under production for export. The horticulture farm is also surrounded by large tracts of land owned under communal tenure by pastoral communities. There are also small holder farmers with small portions of privately owned land. The Ewaso Ngi’ro river cuts across this portions of land including that of the horticulture farm and therefore connecting actors across the 3 food systems needing to access water from the same catchment area. This then presents a scenario of possible conflict linked to land for access to water

      1. Ngutu M., Bukachi S., Olungah C.O., Haller T (2018). Opportunities and Challenges in Export Horticulture as an Agro-industrial Food System: Case Study of Northwest Mount Kenya Region. International Journal on Food System Dynamics 2018, 9 (5). 470-483; doi: 10.18461/ijfsd.v9i5.957

        Ngutu M., Bukachi S., Olungah C.O., Kiteme B., Kaeser F., Haller T (2018). The Actors, Rules and Regulations Linked to Export Horticulture Production and Access to Land and
        Water as Common Pool Resources in Laikipia County, Northwest Mount Kenya, Land 2018, 7, 110; doi:10.3390/land7030110

  3. Thank you for the case study.

    I did not get clarity on the formal and informal rules on the use of water resources. Could you kindly explain further?

    Do you know how these horticultural investments have been affected by Covid-19?

    It would be interesting to hear more voices from communities surrounding such investments.

  4. Given the erratic rainfall and semi-arid climate, agriculture production in the study area relies on irrigation and water harvesting. The 3 food systems; Agro-industrial food system( horticulture production) and local food systems (agro-pastoralists and small holder farmers) share water from the same Ewaso Ngi’ro river basin that cuts across their portions of land under communal and private tenure yet a common pool resource necessary for food production.
    Water access is governed by state through community Water resource user associations (WRUAs). The management of WRUAs is driven by community resources whereby in the study setting the agro-industrial food system contributes more given their larger resource base and this results in them having a higher bargaining power position in water governance to the disadvantage of local food systems.
    Regulation of water use is mandated to the state. In documents, the users accessing water are recorded as the recommended, however in practice their is over harvesting of the water from the river including encroachment into the riparian. The state is challenged in the enforcement of water harvesting as some of the actors divert water without authorization and once reported disconnect to comply during inspection. The agro-industrial food systems and the local food systems blame and report each other of water diversion yet compromise the regulation based on their bargaining power position.
    Additional research to further understand how the horticultural investments have been affected by COVID-19 would be interesting. Current indications is that production and markets are now greatly impacted by the lock downs, with high losses recorded given the highly perishable nature of the fresh fruits and vegetables. Evolving food standards given the strict measures around the pandemic control are influencing markets but also causing higher transaction costs of the horticulture produce.
    Implementing risk control measures for COVID-19 for workers in horticulture production is challenging. Pre-COVID compliance for personal protective equipment (PPEs) was a constant challenge in the agro-industrial food system and it may be be more prevailing now in the pandemic which requires more compliance for PPEs for the workers.

  5. Given the erratic rainfall and semi-arid climate, agriculture production in the study area relies on irrigation and water harvesting. The 3 food systems; Agro-industrial food system( horticulture production) and local food systems (agro-pastoralists and small holder farmers) share water from the same Ewaso Ngi’ro river basin that cuts across their portions of land under communal and private tenure yet a common pool resource necessary for food production.
    Water access is governed by state through community Water resource user associations (WRUAs). The management of WRUAs is driven by community resources whereby in the study setting the agro-industrial food system contributes more given their larger resource base and this results in them having a higher bargaining power position in water governance to the disadvantage of local food systems.
    Regulation of water use is mandated to the state. In documents, the users accessing water are recorded as the recommended, however in practice their is over harvesting of the water from the river including encroachment into the riparian. The state is challenged in the enforcement of water harvesting as some of the actors divert water without authorization and once reported disconnect to comply during inspection. The agro-industrial food systems and the local food systems blame and report each other of water diversion yet compromise the regulation based on their bargaining power position.
    Additional research to further understand how the horticultural investments have been affected by COVID-19 would be interesting. Current indications is that production and markets are now greatly impacted by the lock downs, with high losses recorded given the highly perishable nature of the fresh fruits and vegetables. Evolving food standards given the strict measures around the pandemic control are influencing markets but also causing higher transaction costs of the horticulture produce.
    Implementing risk control measures for COVID-19 for workers in horticulture production is challenging. Pre-COVID compliance for personal protective equipment (PPEs) was a constant challenge in the agro-industrial food system and it may be be more prevailing now in the pandemic which requires more compliance for PPEs for the workers.
    See this 2 publications, they may shed more insights

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