Critical perspectives on the support of inclusive agricultural innovation in Kenya

Felix Ouko Opola

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


This thesis is a critical exploration of how the concept of inclusive innovation is understood and practised, as well as its legitimacy across different spheres in the Kenyan agricultural sector. Though social exclusion from innovation processes has been a long-standing concern, the concept of ‘inclusive innovation’ has emerged recently to denote how innovation can include marginalised actors in its processes and outcomes. Despite its rhetoric within various policy and academic circles, the concept remains ambiguous and there lacks a consensus on what it entails and how it can be assessed. The central aim of this thesis is therefore to explore how processes of inclusive innovation unfold and relate across different spheres in an agricultural innovation system.

The first study investigates the historical background and current landscape of the agricultural innovation system in Kenya in order to identify key issues relating to social inclusion and exclusion within this system. It finds that a key issue in the history of state-led agricultural innovation and development was the annexing of prime agricultural land for European settlers in the country and the exclusion of many rural areas from official agricultural research, education, and development support. The second study examines how the issue of inclusive innovation if framed both in literature and by different actors within the Kenyan agricultural sector. It finds similarities as well as differences in how the issue is framed in literature on the one hand and by agricultural practitioners in Kenya on the other hand. The third study uses ‘the ladder of inclusive innovation’ to examine the levels and forms of social inclusion within three agricultural extension and advisory service programmes in Kenya. Findings indicate a skewed focus on levels of social inclusion that are lower in the ladder such as the intention to include and the delivery of AEAS to the farmer compared to higher levels of social inclusion such as including targeted farmers in the design and management of AEAS and including their knowledge and perspectives on what constitutes a socially inclusive process. The fourth and final study investigates how farmers in Uasin Gishu, Kenya who have been the target of various interventions that promote inclusive agricultural research and innovation in the region accord legitimacy to such interventions. It finds that procedural elements of legitimacy such as participation, control and ownership over the programmes is an important factor that leads to the accordance of legitimacy to inclusive innovation programmes by farmers in Uasin Gishu. It therefore demonstrates that innovations are inclusive not only when they have practical benefits the day to day lives of the targeted actors but also when the procedures employed are inclusive.

General conclusions

The following four key conclusions can be derived from the synthesis of the findings across the four empirical chapters of the thesis:

  • In theory, and as a rhetoric among actors such as agricultural practitioners, inclusive innovation remains a fuzzy concept. However, concrete actions and farmers’ perspectives on the issue indicate clarity in the problems being addressed and the solutions sort after.
  • Inclusive innovation goes beyond redistribution of resources such as knowledge and technologies and requires ‘higher’ levels of inclusion such as including the discourses of the targeted actors on what constitutes an inclusive innovation process
  • Both distributive and procedural forms of justice are equally important goals of social justice to be aimed for and attained in inclusive innovation processes
  • Qualitative indicators are an important addition to the ladder of inclusive innovation as an assessment tool for inclusive innovation processes. This is because they enhance the ladder by making explicit the indicators of social inclusion across all the levels and adding indicators at higher levels of social inclusion in the ladder.

Implications of the findings for theory, policy, and practice

Five implications and recommendations can be derived from this thesis. First, inclusive innovation remains a fuzzy concept and this creates an opportunity to develop new solutions that are context specific and appropriate. Both researchers and practitioners can therefore make explicit the inclusive innovation processes being sort, the actors being targeted and how the consequences will be dealt with for different contexts and scenarios. Secondly, the ladder of inclusive innovation, enhanced with the proposed qualitative indicators in this thesis, can be an important tool to evaluate the social inclusiveness of innovation processes. Third, inclusive innovation theory and practise need to pay attention to the agency of the actors that are targeted in designing, implementing, and assessing such processes. Fourth, inclusive innovation should be conceptualised not only in terms of how innovation processes and outcomes can be made to be inclusive but also in terms of how innovation itself can be used as a tool to realise social inclusion in processes such as food production. Finally, Kenya’s current policies and practises on inclusive agricultural innovation remain rhetorical due to deep-rooted historical development trajectories. Decolonisation and reforms within these policies and approaches is therefore instrumental to attaining inclusive innovation in the country.


Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Klerkx, Laurens, Promotor
  • Leeuwis, Cees, Promotor
  • Kilelu, C.W., Co-promotor
Award date6 Jul 2022
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789464472349
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2022


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