Negotiating livelihoods: an analysis of rural household resources and their utilisation in Nyamira District, mid South-Western Kenya
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The failures of rural development policy to bring about widespread improvement of rural livelihoods have never been adequately examined and explained. There exist knowledge gaps on how poor people arrive at livelihood priorities and deal with concomitant policies as well as how they perceive, mould and use resources to service their livelihood priorities and lifestyles. Hence this exploratory study has been designed to examine poor people's livelihood priorities, the relevant policies and their responses to those policies. Furthermore the study will explore the poor people's perceptions, production and co-production of resources and how they use them to service their livelihood priorities. Following that the study will from the poor people's perspectives isolate and explain viable and non-viable livelihood outcomes. The study is stimulated by the theoretical and practical challenges in understanding the multiple meanings of resources and the implications of those to rural livelihood construction. The theoretical challenge stems in part from the now dominant view in livelihood studies that resources constitute five capitals on the bases of which, specific outcomes including increased income, food security, optimal natural resource use and well-being are sought. This study goes beyond and challenges this materialist view of rural life (based on the livelihoods approach) to investigate villagers' material and non-material resources and how these are moulded to earn a living. This way the study explores the observation that livelihood is about more than just material resources and outcomes. The practical challenge that this study responds to relates to the relative ignorance about poor peoples' resources and lifestyles. What do the rural poor have and what do they pursue in life? Thus, poor peoples' livelihoods should be demystified and their resources and lifestyles explored to capture their view of viable livelihoods and how they seek them. This study proceeds on the premise that villagers create and re-create resources through naming and re-naming them, but also struggle to extend resource meanings while defending existing ones and hence, embrace new opportunities and as a result get involved in more complex relationships, identifications and lifestyles. This is not a phased process but often a contemporaneous one. Accessing resources is therefore, more dynamic and at times more subtle than implied in the livelihoods approach. On the basis of this theoretical position, the study holds that actors struggle with and within institutions as well as negotiate the entry of modern technology, the state and markets in their everyday lives. These nodal points then constitute arenas of contests over resources and thus sites of inquiry.