Rural Income Diversification, Employment, and Differentiation in Kenya and Implications for Rural Change

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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To contribute to contemporary rural development debates, the present thesis conducts a contextual analysis of rural development using Kenya as a case study from the colonial era to today. To perform the analysis, two critical trends in rural Africa are focused on: socioeconomic differentiation and rural income diversification, with a particular focus on large-scale farm employment. By pointing to these processes, the overarching aim of the thesis is to nuance conventional rural development theories. This is achieved by relating empirical livelihood changes to theories of agrarian change.

Three main conclusions can be drawn from the findings. First, the poverty/wealth outcome of rural households’ income diversification is shaped by socioeconomic and historical structures, which govern households’ access to farmand off-farm incomes and, more crucially, their ability to successfully combine the two. Second, gender, conceptualised as the sex of the household head, does not necessarily affect the poverty/wealth outcome of income diversification. Against conventional theories, this thesis finds that social cleavages aside from gender affect
diversification patterns and rural incomes. It follows that conventional literature, which has largely studied smallholder
differentiation through the lens of gender, will require revisions that allow such studies to more effectively incorporate other social cleavages. Third, after having elucidated processes of income diversification and differentiation, a few tentative rural development trajectories can be described. Despite the conventional belief in African historiography, the diversification toward rural wage labour in settler economies does not appear to have caused widespread rural poverty during the colonial era. Contrarily, regions that supplied the bulk of agricultural wage labour also had rising rural incomes and high uptake rates of cash crops.

Since the post-liberalisation era, households have continued to derive a high share of income from off-farm activities;
however, the associated rural change is ambivalent. Off-farm activities have low returns; furthermore, the majority of
households that have become highly dependent on access to off-farm income appear to be on a path similar to the
‘de-agrarianisation’ thesis laid out by Deborah Bryceson and her co-authors, where diversification away from the farm is associated with high poverty rates. Yet, a minority of households (including women-headed ones) have been able to follow a more successful agricultural-based path where off-farm incomes are combined with commercial agriculture. This minority have followed a path of intensification (i.e., by applying more fertiliser and labour to small farms) and are thus less threatened by declining farm sizes.

In sum, post-independence income diversification and differentiation in Kenya do not seem to correlate with dynamic
rural development. Profit possibilities in agriculture are low, as evidenced by a decline in real farm incomes among all income classes, including richer farmers. Instead of accumulation through farming, richer households have increased their income diversification towards better-paid off-farm activities. Consequently, the richer-income classes do not seem capable of driving future rural development. Instead, differentiation among smallholder farmers appears to mainly result in the impoverishment of a large proportion of households without a parallel expansion of commercially oriented and dynamic middle and rich classes emerging from the smallholder sector.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lund University School of Economics and Management, LUSEM
  • Green, Erik, Supervisor
  • Hillbom, Ellen, Assistant supervisor
  • Bolt, Jutta, Assistant supervisor
Award date2020 Dec 4
Place of PublicationLund University
ISBN (Print)978-91-87793-64-6
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-87793-65-3
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jul 1

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2020-12-04
Time: 10:15
Place: EC3:211
External reviewer
Name: Bryceson, Deborah
Title: Professor
Affiliation: University of Edinburgh

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Economic History

Free keywords

  • Rural Development
  • Income Diversification
  • Differentiation
  • Agrarian Political Economy
  • Kenya

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