Contesting 'ethicality': Ethical trade, gender and sustainable livelihoods for smallholder farmers in Kenya

Kiah Smith (2011). Contesting 'ethicality': Ethical trade, gender and sustainable livelihoods for smallholder farmers in Kenya PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Kiah Smith
Thesis Title Contesting 'ethicality': Ethical trade, gender and sustainable livelihoods for smallholder farmers in Kenya
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-01-01
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Geoffrey Lawrence
Dr Kristen Lyons
Total pages 278
Total colour pages 14
Total black and white pages 264
Subjects 16 Studies in Human Society
Abstract/Summary For sociologists interested in sustainability, justice, global trade and agri-food relations, there is intense debate over the capacity of Northern-led ethical trade schemes to enhance the livelihoods of Southern smallholder farmers. It is often taken for granted that the processes for designing, implementing and monitoring ethical trade are ideationally neutral, and thus, that the ethical values embedded in voluntary private standards will benefit the producers involved. However, ethical trade is widely criticised for being highly gendered, and for institutionalising the ethical values of consumers, the priorities of NGOs and governments, and most of all, food retailers. Although some ethical trade standards reflect the concerns of Southern women smallholders, most do not. It is argued here that multiple understandings or meanings of social justice, environmental sustainability and well-being – or ethicality – exist in parallel to those institutionalised in ethical trade schemes. Through a qualitative and participatory case study of smallholder subsistence and French bean farming in Machakos, Kenya, this thesis asks: How do women smallholders construct ‘ethicality’ in their food networks in relation to sustainable livelihoods, and how do these understandings compare with those currently prioritised in regulatory ethical trade models? Very little is known about how women smallholder farmers in Kenya experience diverse ethical trade standards, or whether and how standards reflect their values, local cultural and environmental contexts, or priorities for achieving sustainable livelihoods. As such, a growing number of theorists have argued for the need to reconceptualise relationships between the micro-level of women smallholders’ livelihoods (agency) and the macro-level of ethical regulations (structure), as well as how gendered power relations play out in both. However, while some of the concerns of post-structural political and cultural economy have been combined in analyses of ethical trade to date, it is rare for these studies to draw specifically on gender or development theory. In this thesis, I argue for the need to combine insights from political and cultural economy with gender theory and the sustainable livelihoods framework. Where these perspectives intersect, new insights emerge which provide a theoretical and methodological basis to better explore the structure-agency nexus in smallholder ethical trade food networks in Kenya. A hybrid conceptual framework is proposed that brings together the concepts of food networks and conventions (from political-cultural economy), situated knowledge and participation (from gender theory), and the livelihood strategies and outcomes components of the sustainable livelihoods framework. Specifically, this approach enables the analysis of Kenyan women smallholders’: (1) knowledge of the horizontal and vertical ‘flows’ within their food networks; (2) their strategies of participation and negotiation with ‘more powerful’ actors in ethical trade; and (3) their own definitions of desirable livelihood outcomes, interpreted as alternative ‘conventions’ of ethicality. These components are explored through participatory workshops with over 180 women smallholders, in-depth interviews with 40 smallholders and industry representatives, participant observation and qualitative analysis of standards documents. Methodologically, this study emphasises smallholders’ own accounts, opening up spaces for women’s agency to take centre-stage in a field where their own words are largely missing. The findings of this study illustrate the knowledge, strategies and values of women smallholder farmers that are often beyond the scope of ethical trade regulations. First, women smallholders describe food network relationships that exist horizontally at the level of livelihoods, and which simultaneously influence the vertical flow of inputs, capital and knowledge linking producers to global ethical trade markets. These contrast dramatically with the representations of smallholder ‘supply chains’ emanating from the North. Second, participants identify two important livelihood strategies through which the constraints and opportunities facing women smallholders become apparent – their participation in producer cooperatives and women’s groups. While women’s low participation in the former confirms much of the existing research on ethical trade, women’s groups were found to provide opportunities for meaningful participation, empowerment, resistance and negotiation that producer cooperatives often do not. Finally, women’s priorities regarding income security, well-being, food security and environmental sustainability illustrate that smallholders’ understandings of ‘ethicality’ differ from those currently prioritised in regulatory ethical trade models. Smallholder women in this study draw from a wide variety of ‘conventions’ in order to make meaning out of the kinds of livelihood outcomes that matter to them most, beyond the civic and industrial norms underpinning ethical trade standards. Based on these insights, a revised gendered sustainable livelihoods framework is presented. In it, the agency of women smallholders – located in their knowledge, participation and conventions of ‘ethicality’ – provides the missing link between the structures of ethical trade and livelihood outcomes on the ground. This framework is grounded in smallholders’ lived experiences, provides a mid-level theory between market and livelihoods, and engenders relations of power, structure and agency in food networks. This contribution to theorising sustainable livelihoods is especially relevant as global ethical trade markets rapidly expand, and as more and more smallholder women find themselves incorporated into these markets.
Keyword Gender
ethical trade
French beans
Additional Notes 24, 29, 32, 98, 108, 111, 130, 135, 160, 174, 198, 199, 213, 225

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Created: Fri, 22 Jul 2011, 06:40:01 EST by Miss Kiah Smith on behalf of Library - Information Access Service