Mijikenda agriculture in Coast Province of Kenya : peasants in between tradition, ecology and policy

H. Waaijenberg

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


<p>The Mijikenda live in the hinterland of the southern Kenya coast. They are peasants with small farms growing maize, rice, cassava and cowpea, coconut palms and cashew or fruit trees for the household and the market. A few households own cattle, most keep some goats or sheep and nearly all have a flock of chickens. As the farms are small and the yields of the crops and livestock low, most households have one or more members with off-farm work in the coastal towns. The Mijikenda are generally considered as traditionalists who are reluctant to adapt their society and agriculture to the ways of tomorrow.<p>Between 1981 and 1985 a series of field studies was conducted to describe and analyse Mijikenda agriculture, to identify bottlenecks limiting its performance and, if possible, to explore ways for its future development. The studies combined a farming systems approach with awareness of the constraints imposed by ecological conditions and the role of historical processes in shaping today's reality. The research methods included literature review, formal and informal interviews, qualitative and quantitative observations in farmers' fields, and several small researcher-managed experiments in farmers' fields. The work was concentrated in four villages in the area around Kaloleni, Kilifi District, Coast Province of Kenya.<p>After an introduction about the Mijikenda people and the research approaches, the results are presented in five papers. The first is a collection of short stories about one day in the life of a typical household on a typical farm just south of Kaloleni. The narratives introduce the principal actors and show the stages on which they perform the play called agriculture. It is argued that stories belong not only to fiction but can also be used as research and extension tools.<p>The second paper goes back into history and reveals remarkable patterns of change in the traditional society and agriculture of the Mijikenda people. Within a couple of centuries the actors, the stages and the play have been transformed almost beyond recognition. These changes are all the more striking against the background of apathy often attributed to Mijikenda farmers.<p>In the third paper the present agriculture in the Kaloleni area is described, both as a spatially differentiated land use determined by ecological conditions and as farms characterized by a pattern of settlement, the composition of the household and the organization of the fields. It is explored whether all farms studied are similar or whether distinct classes of farms or farming systems can be distinguished. The implications of the coincidental and deliberate differences are discussed in terms of prospects and strategies for the future.<p>The fourth paper presents a case study of maize production in the Kaloleni area, the major maize growing area of Kilifi District and Coast Province. In the 19th century maize replaced sorghum and millet as the staple food of the Mijikenda. Various aspects of maize production are examined, from the choice of planting material to the use of the harvest, and from ecological bottlenecks to food security. At present, productivity is low and research and extension efforts are poorly focused, but there are options for improvement.<p>The last paper deals with the coconut palm, the dominant element in many landscapes and the economic mainstay of numerous farmers. Although also attention is paid to ecological and agronomic aspects of the crop, the emphasis is on the conflicting uses of the palm, for the harvest of nuts, the production of copra or the tapping of palm wine. On the latter the Mijikenda and the Government have often held diametrically opposed viewpoints. For more than a century more energy has been spent on bickering about the abuse of palm wine than on improving the cultivation of the palm or marketing its other products.<p>The general discussion touches on the methodologies used and suggests improvements. It also ventures to translate the acquired understanding of past and present agriculture into pathways and scenarios for the future. There is ample evidence that the Mijikenda have never let their traditional attitude obstruct necessary or profitable changes. Soil and rainfall conditions limit the distribution and productivity of farm activities, but the Mijikenda have developed numerous agronomic practices that are well adapted to the various ecological niches of their area. There is a need for appropriate research, extension and marketing policies and practices, i.e. ones that take account of the requirements and opportunities of the Mijikenda.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Flach, M., Promotor, External person
Award date21 Jan 1994
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789068320893
Publication statusPublished - 1994


  • farms
  • farming systems
  • ethnography
  • anthropology
  • kenya
  • folk culture
  • customs
  • ethnology
  • agricultural extension

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