Changing capitals, shifting livelihoods : case study of Luo community living on Awach catchment of Lake Victoria Basin, Western Kenya

Nyasimi, Mary
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Natural resource degradation continues to threaten the economic, social, political and cultural survival of African people. This study was conducted in Kanyibana village, a patriachical Luo ethnic group living on Awach catchment of Lake Victoria Basin to 1) understand the relationship and impact of cultural practices on natural resource management, 2) identify the livelihood strategies that people are pursuing and, 3) accesses the usefulness of the sustainable livelihood framework in examining the relationship between natural and cultural capitals. Using inductive qualitative and participatory research methods, findings suggest that livelihoods of the people of Kanyibana village are becoming divorced from farming as the land use and management practices collide with embedded and valued cultural practices. Land degradation appears to be highly influenced by persistent cultural rituals and customs that are not keeping pace with the changing environment. Furthermore, the tension between natural and cultural capitals is leading to increased poverty levels. Kanyibana people have responded to land degradation by getting involved in multiple non-farming activities within and outside the village. There is evidence of increased migration to surrounding villages in search of food and income. Lack of safety nets and social support as they engage in multiple non-farming activities, particularly outside their village, is making them less resilient and more vulnerable to existing and newly emerging shocks and risks. The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework proved useful in analyzing and understanding local complexities such as cultural land allocation practices that lead to land ownership insecurities, eventually contributing to land degradation. The flexibility of the framework enabled me to decide where to start the study - at the assets level -- and to determine who to involve at different levels and what methods to employ. Although the framework is useful in so far as understanding the local complexities, it does not provide solutions to problems that local people face. However, the knowledge gained from local community residents, combined with their active involvement is analyzing the factors impacting their livelihoods, does hold potential for follow up initiatives that could, if nurtured appropriately, induce social and natural resource change.