Transforming lands and livelihoods in the Awach River Basin of Lake Victoria, western Kenya

Nyasimi, Mary
Major Professor
Lorna Michael Butler
Charles Lee Burras
Committee Member
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The significance of understanding the relationships between land degradation and livelihoods in developing countries has become a worldwide concern because of its importance to human food security, environmental quality and biodiversity. In sub-Saharan Africa, estimates indicate that 73% of the land is degraded as a result of erosion, soil compaction, nutrient depletion and deforestation. This degradation had caused a decline in quality of life or livelihoods. To understand the dynamic interaction between land degradation and livelihoods, a cross-cultural study was conducted among the Luo and Kipsigis people of western Kenya. The study adapted DFID's sustainable rural livelihood framework and investigated the following questions. (1) What livelihood capitals are rural people drawing upon in their everyday lives? (2) What livelihood strategies are rural people pursuing with regard to quality of their capitals? (3) What feedback relationships exist between capitals and livelihood strategies with special focus upon the role of land and culture? and (4) What is the appropriate research framework and methodology for studying land degradation and livelihoods?;Results suggest that a dynamic relationship exists between land and livelihoods that is rapidly transforming the lives of people of Awach River catchment, western Kenya albeit in different directions. Among the Luo people negative natural and cultural capital synergies exist, which in turn, are triggering downward spiral of other capitals. The negative interaction is rendering them unable to not only withstand internal and external shocks, but rebuild their capitals. As the land continues to degrade, the people seem to lack the needed will power, self confidence and determination to break away from deeply embedded cultural practices and reorganize their livelihood assets into more productive systems. Instead, they are escaping from their village problems, and in turn, their land and livelihoods are collapsing. The end result is escalating land degradation and increasing unsustainable livelihoods. On the other hand, the Kipsigis are experiencing positive capital synergies that enable them to adapt and utilize a range of capital management strategies. They are able to take advantage of internally changing capitals and external opportunities to build a somewhat healthy and resilient agrarian community that is linked to asset intensification and diversification. In conclusion, the study showed that the ability to make a meaningful livelihood in rural Africa is dependent not only on the quality and quantity of capitals that homestead members possess, but the capability to use and transform the capitals as well.