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

  • Jerneck A
  • Olsson L
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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. Introduction: why agroforestry matters Agroforestry can be an important contribution to sustainable intensification of agriculture, par-ticularly in sub-Saharan Africa (Pretty et al. 2011). In this paper, we start from sustainability science to explore and theorise agroforestry adoption in small-scale farming in sub-Saharan Africa using western Kenya as an illustration. Agroforestry is widely known to enhance local environmental, economic and social conditions (Kibria et al. 2011, Millard 2011, Anderson and Zerriffi 2012, Kiptot and Franzel 2012). In addition, the global benefit of agroforestry in terms of biological carbon sequestration has been recognised recently and is now equally well established (Schroeder 1994, Olsson and Ardö 2002, Albrecht and Kandji 2003, Lal 2004, Mon-tagnini and Nair 2004, Farage et al. 2007, Schoeneberger 2009, Luedeling et al. 2011). Carbon sequestration, in turn, has three main benefits. It can mitigate climate change, improve the sustain-ability of farming systems and alleviate poverty among small-scale farmers who grasp income opportunities in the emerging carbon market (World Bank 2007). Further, tapping into the # 2013 The Author(s).

Author-supplied keywords

  • agroforestry adoption
  • carbon sequestration
  • climate change
  • entrepreneurs
  • food security
  • grounded theory
  • narrative walks
  • risk
  • sustainability science
  • time poverty

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  • Anne Jerneck

  • Lennart Olsson

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