In Western Kenya, smallholder dairy production is becoming incrementally commercialized through the commodification and sale of milk through formal market channels. While commercialization is often construed as a way to boost rural livelihoods through increased income from milk, emerging evidence suggests that married women are not directly benefiting from formal milk market participation. This critical issue of gender power imbalance has been framed by development interventions in economic efficiency and social justice perspectives, but thus far interventions in the sector have not addressed how underlying social-market mechanisms embedded in gendered ideology influence smallholder engagement in dairy commercialization. Drawing on feminist theories of power and social embeddedness, this study investigates how gendered power relationships materialize and influence formal milk marketing engagement and practices in Western Kenya. Facilitated discussion groups with smallholder farmers revealed the gendered ideologies and norms that ascribe masculinized meaning to cattle, milk, and commercial enterprise. Key informant interviews with commercial dairy management and farmers were used to identify current practices for increasing women’s formal market participation—namely, direct payments to women for milk deliveries. Findings from this study indicate that cattle and formal dairy market participation are imbued with gendered meaning that create legitimacy around men’s privilege over dairy proceeds. Interventions in the sector aimed at addressing gender power imbalances must acknowledge this dynamic, and accept the social trade-offs and gendered costs of dairy commercialization.
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Gendered ideology around cows varies by dairy system, region, and ethnicity. There is an emergent literature around the power of women as milk managers in pastoral dairy systems in eastern Africa (Parsons and Lombard 2017) and of the changing gender roles and relationships of men and women to dairying in Maasai communities (Allegretti 2018; Bischot 2017) that challenge a universally patriarchal or homogenous “dairy culture”.
We define commodification as “a process whereby assets, goods, and services gradually shift from having a use value purely in terms of subsistence, to having an exchange value as well, meaning that they will be increasingly sold and acquired on the market” (Anderson et al. 2012, p. 384).
The sub-counties of Bomet are: Bomet central, Bomet east, Chepalungu, Konoin, and Sotik. The sub-counties of Nandi are: Nandi Central, Nandi north, Nandi south, Nandi east, and Tinderet. Several key informant interviews occurred at the border of Uasin Gishu and Nandi county in the town of Eldoret. Since Eldoret is more culturally similar to Nandi than other sub-counties of Uasin Gishu, data presented is representative of Nandi and Bomet counties, respectively.
In Kenya, the project focused on the Rift Valley area working in eight districts (Bomet, Buret, Keiyo, Kipkelion, Marakwet, Molo, Nandi, Uasin Gishu, and West Pokot) and two districts in the Central Province (Nyandarua and Nyeri). This study recruited participants from Bomet and Nandi counties, with several interviews occurring in Eldoret, at the border of Nandi and Uasin Gishu counties.
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This work was implemented as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which is carried out with support from CGIAR Fund Donors and through bilateral funding agreements. For details, please visit https://ccafs.cgiar.org/donors. The views expressed in this document cannot be taken to reflect the official opinions of these organizations.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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Tavenner, K., Crane, T.A. Gender power in Kenyan dairy: cows, commodities, and commercialization. Agric Hum Values 35, 701–715 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-018-9867-3
- Social embeddedness
- Milk marketing