Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 156-165

First online:

Gender, ecology, and the science of survival: Stories and lessons from Kenya

  • Dianne E. Rocheleau

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Sustainable development and biodiversity initiatives increasingly include ethnoscience, yet the gendered nature of rural people's knowledge goes largely unrecognized. The paper notes the current resurgence of ethnoscience research and states the case for including gendered knowledge and skills, supported by a brief review of relevant cultural ecology and ecofeminist field studies. The author argues the case from the point of view of better, more complete science as well as from the ethical imperative to serve women's interests as the “daily managers of the living environment”. In the interests of both objectives the paper advocates an ethnoscience research approach based on empowerment of rural people, rather than simple extraction of their knowledge. The Kenyan case study of women's agroforestry work follows their response to the drought and famine of 1985 and chronicles the unfolding discovery of women's ecological, political, and social science as gendered survival skills. The case is re-counted as a story, in keeping with an explicit choice to learn through participation and to report through storytelling. The experience of rural women and researchers during the drought provides several lessons for both groups about their respective knowledge systems, their agroforestry work, and the relationship of both to local and national political economy.