Local Institutions and Smallholder Women’s Access to Land Resources in Semi-Arid Kenya


Po, June Y. T., and Gordon M. Hickey. 2018. “Local Institutions and Smallholder Women’s Access to Land Resources in Semi-Arid Kenya.” Land Use Policy 76: 252–63.

Authors: June Y. T. Po, Gordon M. Hickey


Land is a critical resource in smallholder farming systems, access to which is guided by complex interpretations of local norms, customary values, and statutory laws. This study explores how smallholder women access land resources under local institutions in semi-arid Kenya following a major constitutional reform on land succession passed in 2010. We draw on social relations approach, access theory, and social-ecological resilience thinking to examine Kamba women’s access to land resources using qualitative data collected through in-depth key informant interviews (n = 77), twelve focus group discussions (n = 134), and eight community meetings (n = 363). Results show that although some women were aware of their rights to inherit and own land, Kamba women were generally reluctant to claim land resources through local customary institutions and/or land registration processes. This stemmed from a desire to maintain gender dynamics within the household and to maintain their current relational access to land and other livelihood resources. Women, as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, grandmothers, divorcée and widows, were found to face vastly different pressures in land resource access. They reported using relational access mechanisms to cope with, and adapt to, land resource constraints. When combined with rights-based mechanisms of access, women could better secure future generations’ land resource access, especially in cases of skipped-generational households.

Topics: Agriculture, Gender, Women, Households, Land Tenure, Rights, Land Rights Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Kenya

Year: 2018

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