Aspirations of rural households
and development efforts

      • The timeline - introduction


      This timeline outlines the evolution of our investigation to understand better the aspirations of  rural households in an effort to determine implications for agricultural research. It will highlight the major steps taken and progress made. We will also add the unique perspectives of the research teams involved and the new insights gained from this newly established collaboration between the World Agroforestry, ICRISAT, the Cynefin Centre and Bangor University. 

    • Aug 25, 2021
      • Roundtable discussion - recording

      For those that didn't manage to join the Roundtable discussion, here the link to the recording

    • Jul 09, 2021
      • EVENT: RURAL ASPIRATIONS

      Building on the results and the breadth of the contributions within the Special Issue speakers will highlight research directions and gaps, then proceed to start a discussion on what development stakeholders can learn for their daily activities and project design.

      Speakers will outline the difference that emerges within common approaches to looking at aspirations which we would argue are different concepts – i.e., aspirations and ambitions. The theoretical differentiation will be followed by a brief outline of various approaches on measuring those and lead into a group discussion on the implications of the differences for future research strategies. The second part of the roundtable will then focus on practical implications of the Special Issue for development planning and design. Speakers will outline the bottom-up view on aspirations as well as the top-down view in order to kick-start a group discussion on what we can learn from the different view and how these could be harmonized.

    • Jul 08, 2021
      • Resolving tensions between global development goals and local aspirations

      The Sustainable Development Goals –- a set of 17 globally agreed-upon targets for the year 2030 -– are clearly listed and appear to be easy to subscribe to. However, development planning and the implementation of development projects are never straightforward.

      Trade-offs between the 17 goals have to be considered. The pursuit of one goal may negatively affect the achievement of another. For instance, raising farmer incomes may lead to unaffordable food for the urban poor. How should development actors decide on priorities and how should they handle such trade-offs?

      As the goals are so broad and multi-faceted, many development agencies focus on specific niches – such as wildlife conservation – that they feel passionate about or think they can contribute most to. Politicians need to prioritise available funds and often choose high visibility, prestige mega-projects such as highways, railway lines or airports.

    • Jul 08, 2021
      • SPECIAL ISSUE

      Rural aspirations – livelihood decisions and rural development trajectories

    • Jun 11, 2021
      • Stories of change: Analyzing aspirations of rural women and men

      Looking into the aspirations of rural people provides insights into how they earninvestmake decisions within the householdhold government accountablemake technology choices, and engage in other future-oriented behaviors.

      While aspirations-based theories in economics have largely focused on people’s ‘capacity to aspire’, or rather their level of ambition relative to those around them, we use the term ‘aspiration’ to refer to what people aspire to do, with specific attention to the livelihood activities with which they wish to engage. Gender and age play an important role in aspiration formation. While aspirations of young people in agriculture have been studied, desires and ambitions of rural women have largely been overlooked. Yet, the topic is becoming even more important as many men migrate in search of more lucrative employment opportunities outside their rural homes, and many women assume the role of primary farmer.

      One region where this is happening at scale is the eastern drylands of Kenya. In our recent study there, we interviewed 88 women and 50 men of all ages to understand where they see their future opportunities and what role farming plays in their aspired future.

      continue reading 

    • Jun 01, 2021
      • Rural aspirations - reflections for development planning, design, and localized effects


      Abstract/Summary

      In this editorial introduction to the Special Issue “Rural aspirations in Africa – Livelihood decisions and rural development trajectories” we outline current views on aspirations and their relevance for development research, projects, and approaches. Using several examples from Africa, we outline how the combination of the different theoretical perspectives, case studies and regional backgrounds provides deeper insights about the role of aspirations in shaping rural areas. The distinct entry points of the ‘bottom up’ local aspirations for future lives, the ‘top down’ aspirations as visions for change and the process of negotiating between these provide novel insights into directions for development action as well as for future research in the field of aspirations in the development arena.

      Authors
      Kai Mausch, Dave Harris, Javier Revilla Diez
    • Apr 15, 2021
      • Not all about farming: understanding aspirations can challenge assumptions about rural development.


      Abstract/Summary

      Another Special Issue contribution online:

      Rural development is a political topic in which debate has been more focussed on externally identified needs than on demands or aspirations of the rural population and polarised between the attractions of urban income earning opportunities and the importance of rural farming communities for national food provision. The heterogeneity of local aspirations and their implications for development have barely been considered. We explore the aspirations of residents of three contrasting regions in Kenya that vary in their agricultural and off-farm potential. We argue that opportunities are a major framing influence on aspirations but there is important, and routinely overlooked, diversity within the communities which could inform future options for effective development. We outline how development initiatives could be redesigned to align more closely with aspirations. However, aspirations are a complex concept and, while our approach offered novel insights, these would be enriched when combined with household survey data.

      Authors
      Kai Mausch, Dave Harris, Luke Dilley, Mary Crossland, Tim Pagella, Jules Yim, Emma Jones
    • Apr 01, 2021
      • Gendered aspirations - Brief


      Description

      About this brief

      This brief presents a study on the changing opportunity spaces of men and women in the drylands of eastern Kenya (Crossland et al., 2021). It sheds light on the dynamics of rural aspirations in relation to both gender and age within the themes of outmigration and feminisation of agriculture. Using a novel methodology combining short narratives with semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions, this research contributes to a more nuanced understanding of aspirations and the wider socio-cultural context within which they are embedded and makes several recommendations for progressing aspirations research. The purpose of the research is to provide a better understanding of people’s current situations, desired trajectories and the influences that shape these aspirations, so that researchers and development actors might better tailor their support options to meet the needs of different user groups by matching technologies to their strategies and demands.

      File Gender aspirations Brief Download
    • Feb 15, 2021
      • What's the Story on Agriculture? Using Narratives to Understand Farming Households' Aspirations in Meru, Kenya


      Abstract/Summary

      Another Special Issue contribution online: 

      In the limited research on farming aspirations, little attention has been paid to the narratives which frame and shape them, and the ways in which the aspirations of those who farm intersect with the goals of extension services. Drawing on multimethod research conducted in Meru county, Kenya, we demonstrate how aspirations are not only situated within a consideration of personal circumstances, but are shaped in crucial ways by networks of relations and by the perceived possibilities aforded by material and cultural resources. We further highlight the accounts of state extension agents that link a lack of engagement with the desires and needs of those who farm to the failure of agricultural development initiatives. We argue that an engagement with aspirations opens up a route to understanding the obstacles and potentialities that matter to those who farm and, as such, might enable more responsive development initiatives centred on the perceptions and desires of those who farm.

      Authors
      Luke Dilley, Kai Mausch, Mary Crossland, Dave Harris
    • Feb 15, 2021
      • Women's Changing Opportunities and Aspirations Amid Male Outmigration: Insights from Makueni County, Kenya


      Abstract/Summary

      Another Special Issue contribution online:

      In Makueni County, Kenya, an area experiencing intensifying migration lows, we investigate the aspired futures of rural men and women using a novel methodology combining a narrative-based survey tool, focus group discussions and semistructured interviews. Our indings indicate that, in the absence of men and presence of norms restricting women’s movement out of rural life, women are becoming increasingly engaged in farm management. Women’s aspirational narratives focused on commercialising farm activities, likely relecting their changing agricultural opportunity space and new realities as farm managers. We highlight that only considering aspirations at the household level overlooks difering individual contributions, agency over various household income streams and individuals’ changing roles throughout life. Based on our indings, we make recommendations for further aspirations research including explicit consideration of intrahousehold heterogeneity and how individual strategies and aspirations interrelate and are negotiated at the household level to build an overall livelihood strategy.

      Authors
      Mary Crossland, Ana Maria Paez Valencia, Tim Pagella, Kai Mausch, Dave Harris, Luke Dilley, Leigh Winowiecki
    • Jan 24, 2021
      • How young Kenyans feel about farming goes against conventional wisdom

      Getty images Every year, 12 million young people enter the labour market across the African continent.

      Economists and policy makers differ about how they should be absorbed into the labour market. Some experts believe that only agriculture can create enough jobs. Others argue for a focus on the agricultural sector and industrialisation especially with increasing urbanisation.

      Choosing which policy avenue to follow requires a good understanding of the aspirations of young people.

      continue reading

    • Jan 12, 2021
      • Who wants to farm? Answers depend on how you ask: a case study on youth aspirations in Kenya.


      Abstract/Summary

      European Journal of Development ResearchWhile there is a consensus that rural poverty has to be reduced, there are two opposing views on the role that agriculture can play in this regard: a “farm-based” and an “off-farm led” development paradigm where the respective other sector is merely a complementary income source during a transition period. The latter paradigm is supported by studies finding that rural youth in sub-Saharan-Africa, are not particularly interested in agriculture. However, policy discourse on youth in agriculture often situates their aspirations as either full-time farming or non-farming, thus either supporting or opposing one or the other of the two paradigms, while neglecting the shades of grey between these two extremes. Using a mixedmethods approach - a household survey and a narrative-based tool called SenseMaker - to collect data from both adults and youth in 261 households in rural Kenya, this study suggests that this categorical understanding needs to be revisited to inform rural development strategies based on the actual aspirations of rural youth.

      Authors
      Katie LaRue, Thomas Daum, Dave Harris, Kai Mausch
    • Dec 23, 2020
      • New perspectives on technology adoption in agriculture

      Virtual Special Issue / Special Collection in Outlook on Agriculture 

       

      https://journals.sagepub.com/topic/collections-oag/oag-1-technology_adoption_in-agriculture/oaga

    • Aug 18, 2020
      • Special Issue - coming soon


      The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everything everywhere causing delays, changes of plans and cancelation of plans. Adjustments had to be made for the special issue too. Despite this, 10 contributions have since been submitted and are under review. While we are waiting for the first papers to come online, a few thoughts on the pandemic and the opportunities to realign development efforts 

    • Mar 23, 2020
      • Why measuring youths' aspirations is key to sustainable and inclusive rural development

      Especially for young people, diverse portfolios for rural populations should be the core part of a well-thought out rural investment strategy, say researchers.

      The first results of the Kenyan census conducted in 2019 reveal a gradual demographic transition towards smaller families coupled with a growing urban population. 

      Still, even for this dynamic African nation that recently rose to ‘middle-income’ status, its future inclusive prosperity and ability to reach the Sustainable Development Goals will depend on how the rural population, most of whom are farmers with a few acres each of rain-fed land, fare in the decade to come.

      Rural households are the most vulnerable to the climate crisis because their livelihoods depend on erratic rainfall. Across sub-Saharan Africa, rural areas have higher rates of poverty, illiteracy and child mortality as well as less access to basic services, such as electricity and safe sanitation. The widening gulf between rural and urban zones is fuelling large-scale migration of rural youth to burgeoning African cities.

      Continue reading 

    • Mar 09, 2020
      • Not just farmers: understanding rural aspirations is key to Kenya's future


      Understanding rural household aspirations and taking them seriously in development planning could offer great potential in shaping the future of rural spaces. - A short recap of what we have been working on in the past.

    • Mar 02, 2020
      • Special Issue on aspiration


      The European Journal of Development Research just accepted our proposal for a Special Issue on rural aspirations entitled 'Rural aspirations in Africa – Livelihood decisions and rural development trajectories'. Teaming up with the DFG funded research group 'Future Rural Africa' we will provide a wide-ranging overview of research into the aspirations of rural people. Kai Mausch and Dave Harris will serve as guest editors alongside Javier Revilla Diez to coordinate the submissions from about 50 contributing authors across 15 manuscripts. The special issue will represent the coming together of a set of papers that are cross-methodological and cross-disciplinary in approach and examine rural aspirations across a range of subject areas including land use change and social-ecological transformations; migration; value chains; gender; and youth. 

    • Nov 28, 2019
      • Rethinking poverty eradication and food security through agriculture in Africa

      MEDIA RELEASE:

      Nairobi, Kenya, 28 November 2019 — Agriculture in Africa is expected to meet the dual objectives of providing food and helping people to escape poverty but, in practice, this is rarely possible on the small farms that cover the vast majority of the continent’s agricultural landscapes. It’s time for policymakers, agricultural researchers and practitioners to recognize the need to separate food security and poverty eradication, argue a team from World Agroforestry (ICRAF), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Bangor University and Oxford Martin School.
       

    • Nov 21, 2019
      • Poverty eradication and food security through agriculture in Africa: Rethinking objectives and entry points


      Abstract/Summary

      Agriculture in Africa is expected to meet the dual objectives of providing food and helping people to escape poverty. African agriculture is dominated by smallholdings and donors generally target their agricultural support at the smallholder sector. The expectation is that if the gap between actual and potential yields can be closed, smallholders will grow sufficient crops to feed their families, with a surplus to sell, thus meeting food security needs and bringing in an income to move them out of poverty. In practice, this is often not possible. While technologies already exist that can raise smallholder farmers’ yields 3 or 4 times, even under rainfed conditions, the small size of land available to them limits how much can be grown and the per capita income from agriculture is insufficient to allow people to move above the current World Bank-defined poverty line of US$1.90 per day. We link this finding with farmer typologies to further explain that there are large differences between individual farming households themselves in terms of their investment incentives and capability to benefit from field-level technologies that are aimed at increasing farm productivity. We argue for more differentiated policies for agricultural development in Africa and suggest that policymakers should be much more aware of the heterogeneity of farms and target interventions accordingly. It is important to understand where and for whom agriculture will have the main purpose of ensuring food and nutritional security and where and for whom there is the potential for significant increases in incomes and a contribution to wider economic growth. Let us recognize the distinctiveness of these targets and underlying target groups and work towards solutions that address the underlying needs.

      Authors
      A Gassner, D Harris, K Mausch, A Terheggen, C Lopes, RF Finlayson, P Dobie
    • Sep 05, 2019
      • Sharing aspiration and sensemaker insights with UNEP


      Abstract/Summary

      UN Environment Programme and Cognitive Edge jointly hosted a panel discussion on “Behavioral Insights for environmental impact” at its headquarters in Nairobi on 5 September 2019.

      The panel discussed how innovative methods and behavioral science can be used to deliver positive environmental impact by exploring new and innovative solutions and methods that can improve our role as agents of change in addressing the critical environmental challenges of our time.

      In that context, the panel explored the following key issues:

      • What are the barriers to environmental change not meeting globally set goals and challenges?
      • How can we better use social, economic and environmental data in a complimentary way to drive our behaviors towards sustainable solutions?
      • Is there an opportunity to embed behavioral changes into our business models at all levels?

      View the World Agroforestry contribution on slideshare: Understanding farmer behavior and options to improve outcomes von World Agroforestry (ICRAF)

      Or download it from the link below. 

      • Report

        pdf
    • May 23, 2019
      • Stories shared


      Gathering stories from more than 600 households is easy, analysing the content takes much longer. Here is a word cloud preview of what stories have been shared.

    • Nov 13, 2018
      • Youth Aspirations in Kenya


      Introduction

      My name is Katie LaRue and I am currently pursuing a Master Degree at Hohenheim University in Stuttgart, Germany. My studies revolve around environmental protection and agricultural food production, which seeks to answer the pressing problem of feeding a growing population sustainably. In culmination of my program, I wanted to see first hand the backbone of the world’s agriculture industry. So when I stumbled upon a flyer advertising a thesis opportunity in Kenya that would address the aspirations of rural farmers, I knew this was my chance. After a few months of tedious preparation, I arrived at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya and am well on my way to witnessing the 

    • Sep 17, 2018
      • Sensemaker field work
    • Sep 10, 2018
      • Katie LaRue

      Biography

    • Sep 03, 2018
      • The enumerator training


      The enumerator training phase of the project, led by Jules Yim and Emma Jones, kicked off with a 3-day event at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

    • Aug 06, 2018
      • Turkana scoping
    • Jul 11, 2018
      • Survey design workshop


      The design phase of the survey instrument (link to the survey tool) for this project, led by Jules Yim and Emma Jones, kicked off with a 2-day workshop at Bangor University, UK. Ellie Snowden, a researcher at Cynefin Centre, provided remote support via video conference.

    • Jul 10, 2018
      • Marys story: Rural aspirations through a gender lens


      I was first introduced to Dave Harris and Kai Mausch by my PhD supervisor at Bangor University, Tim Pagella. As a PhD student, my research explores how agricultural interventions to restore degraded lands can and cannot influence the livelihood trajectories of rural households. That is, the way that livelihoods change over time – and the extent to which innovations can reduce poverty and improve food security. Considering the increasing recognition that people’s aspirations influence their investment decisions, both in and out of farming, it was clear to Tim and me that understanding rural aspirations had important implications for the development, uptake and success of land restoration approaches. The types of restoration options a household may be willing to invest in will likely differ with their aspirations for the future. Compared to those who aspire to continue farming for the foreseeable future, households with aspirations to diversify away from agriculture may be less likely to invest in the often labour-intensive process of land restoration.

    • Jul 09, 2018
      • Mary Crossland

      Biography

    • Jul 06, 2018
      • Who are those people we call farmers?

      Agricultural interventions should match household aspirations

      Just about six percent of rural households in Kenya, aspire for their children to become farmers. This is highlighted through a recent study that interviewed 624 rural households from Embu and Kitui in eastern Kenya.

    • Jun 04, 2018
      • Adding an MSc student to the team


      After an initial chat with Prof. Regina Birner from the University of Hohenheim, we agreed to look for an MSc student to work on the aspirations project and started advertising the opportunity.  

    • May 16, 2018
      • Researchers recommend factoring in aspirations of rural households

      Agricultural research must listen to farmers and their aspirations while designing effective technology solutions

      Over 70% of sub-Saharan Africa’s one billion people are under the age of 30. While most rural households engage in agriculture, more and more young people have chosen to migrate to cities and away from farming. This trend has significant implications for research and investment efforts underway to transform sub-Saharan Africa’s agriculture.

    • Apr 23, 2018
      • Who are those people we call farmers? Rural Kenyan aspirations and realities


      Abstract/Summary

      Rural Kenyan households have different aspirations and income portfolio strategies, including agricultural intensification and income diversification. This article reports on a study that interviewed 624 households to explore rural aspirations and derive lessons for agricultural technology development and transfer. Though few households specialised in farming, many households self-identified as farmers and aspired to increase their agricultural income. Despite the prevalence of agricultural aspirations, few aspired for their children to have a future in farming. Combining aspirations with potential to invest, the article provides suggestions for targeting agricultural interventions. We need to start listening better to those people we call “farmers” to develop and offer innovations that meet their realities.

       

      KEYWORDS: Environment (built and natural) – Agriculture, Food security, Labour and livelihoods – Poverty reduction, Technology, Sub-Saharan Africa

      https://doi.org/10.1080/09614524.2018.1446909

      Authors
      Simone Verkaart, Kai Mausch, Dave Harris
    • Apr 11, 2018
      • Households' aspirations for rural development through agriculture


      Abstract/Summary

      In sub-Saharan Africa, rural households are the focus of many development efforts and the transformation of smallholder agriculture is one entry point for this process. Understanding farming households’ technology choices remains one of the most critical aspects of agricultural research in rural areas. However, many technologies that are known to be effective and potentially highly beneficial have remained widely unused. One reason is that predicting farmers’ decisions concerning agricultural technologies using conventional economic theories is flawed. In this article, we suggest that human aspirations have a much greater influence on technology choices than hitherto believed. We further argue that a better understanding of aspirations will improve the targeting of technology development by researchers. We propose distributed ethnography to empirically test the influence of human aspirations on technology choice. From such insight, we anticipate better research priority setting as well as more effective rural development strategies in general.

      https://doi.org/10.1177/0030727018766940

      Authors
      Mausch, K., Harris, D., Heather, E., Jones, E., Yim, J., Hauser, M.
    • Oct 11, 2016
      • Jules Yim

      Biography

    • Oct 11, 2016
      • Emma Jones

      Biography

    • Oct 11, 2016
      • The first meeting - Cynefin Centre perspective


      The Cynefin Centre for Applied Complexity was officially launched in April 2016 with an inaugural lecture by Professor Dave Snowden at Pontio in Bangor University. Dave Harris, who was present, decided to get in touch with the Cynefin Centre team soon after to arrange a meeting.

    • Jun 13, 2016
      • Introducing SenseMaker


    • Jun 12, 2016
      • Managing In Complexity


    • Apr 05, 2016
      • Opening up new opportunities


      The livelihood choices we were trying to study at the time were too complex to be captured using standard survey tools. We all went back to other commitments for a while until Dave Harris came across an announcement of an inaugural lecture by Dave Snowden at Bangor University. Prof. Snowden had just opened the Cynefin Centre at Bangor University that was intriguingly framed as a journey into complexity. The Cynefin approach seemed to directly address the problems we were facing at the time. After Dave Harris attended the talk by his namesake, he reached out to the rest of the team and shared several of Dave Snowden’s lectures that are available on YouTube. The whole team had a notion that the SenseMaker tool and Distributed Ethnography method that Dave Snowden and his team were using might be just what we needed to move forward. Consequently, we scheduled a face-to-face meeting with the Cynefin Centre team for October in Bangor in order to fully explore its potential use.

    • Feb 02, 2015
      • Sometimes plans do not work out


      With the approval of the activity under CRP PIM, we reached out to the Department of Psychology at Bangor University, UK. This partnership was aimed at ensuring that the psychology of these very complex life choices could be accounted for.

    • Oct 06, 2014
      • Related projects join forces


      Our colleague Simone Verkaart has been working on the link between diversified incomes and adoption of agricultural technologies for her PhD, so we were happy to bring her on board for this activity and expand the scope.

    • Jan 03, 2014
      • Dr Kai Mausch

      Biography

    • Jan 03, 2014
      • Dr Dave Harris

      Biography

    • Jan 02, 2014
      • What we planned


      Rainfed farming in Sub-Saharan Africa is risky, hard work and small parcels of land limit the returns from agriculture that many farming families could achieve. Engagement in other income generating activities such as wage labour, casual labour, running small businesses, etc., is widespread. These off-farm and non-farm activities have implications for the attributes that farmers value in agricultural technologies and more generally, for how they approach their own farming activities. The ongoing debate about those implications has two contrasting arguments: