Food first! Theorising assets and actors in agroforestry: risk evaders, opportunity seekers and 'the food imperative' in sub-Saharan Africa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Despite widely recognised and well-established benefits, it is difficult to adopt the multifunctional activity of agroforestry into the landscape and lifeworld of small-scale agriculture, if poverty, itself a main reason for adopting agroforestry, stands in its way. Based on participant observations and interviews with small-scale farmers in western Kenya, we explore and theorise agroforestry adoption as a process of socio-ecological and socio-technological change. Proceeding from sustainability science and a modified livelihoods approach we use grounded theory in narrative walks' to analyse adoption and non-adoption of agroforestry in a setting where farmers continuously interpret, adjust to and invest in their environment. Given the diversity and complexity of such livelihoods, the analysis is structured around reproductive and productive chains, strategies and practices defined by uncertainty and risk, and conflicting interests. Findings indicate that food secure farmers may act as entrepreneurially inclined opportunity seekers' and venture into agroforestry, whereas the food imperative'(alongside the health imperative') makes it more difficult for agroforestry to take root among the poorest of the poor' who act as risk evaders'. Hence, agroforestry adoption must be understood within an integrated human-environment frame recognising the socio-ecological relations of technology adoption and the wider political aspects and power structures of food security.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • agroforestry adoption, carbon sequestration, climate change, entrepreneurs, food security, grounded theory, narrative walks, risk, sustainability science, time poverty
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
JournalInternational Journal of Agricultural Sustainability
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch