Going Their Separate Ways: Agrarian Transformation in Kenya, 1930-1950

Going Their Separate Ways: Agrarian Transformation in Kenya, 1930-1950

Going Their Separate Ways: Agrarian Transformation in Kenya, 1930-1950

Going Their Separate Ways: Agrarian Transformation in Kenya, 1930-1950

Synopsis

From 1930-1950, Vihiga and Gusiland, relatively similar regions of western Kenya, went their separate ways and in opposite directions. This account of the contrasting experiences of the Vihiga and Gusiiland provides a framework for enhanced understanding of the history of agrarian change in Africa.

Excerpt

This study compares and contrasts the agrarian changes that took place in two rural regions of Kenya between 1930 and 1950. During the two decades, Vihiga and Gusiiland, regions similar in size, physical features, and environment, experienced particularly profound transformations. However, these were marked by significant differences. Going their separate ways, they moved in opposite directions. Vihiga was a region hugely impacted by the colonial economy down to 1930 as the leading producer of maize for sale in western Kenya. This meant that the area formed part of Kenya’s agrarian revolution zone. Many households had commercialized agriculture, entered off-farm employment, and accepted Western education. Nevertheless, Vihiga had by 1950 shifted to a path marked by food deficits, malnutrition, and increasing levels of rural poverty. Gusiiland, only marginally immersed in the colonial economy by 1930, had by 1950 taken a way characterized by increasing production and sale of commodities by peasant households and increased involvement in colonial labor markets. the region was poised to become part of the agrarian revolution zone, a role characterized by increased household incomes and adequate nutritional levels over succeeding decades while Vihiga would be unable to consistently feed itself. Thus, the experience of the preceding two decades had by 1950 placed the two regions on different trajectories along which they would move for the rest of the century.

While the experiences of the 1930s and 1940s were fundamental in producing this divergent destiny, we recognize that it is also significant that the two regions did not just follow separate ways. Peasantization and proletarianization continued at different speeds, but during the two decades the regions also turned away from the paths they had followed since the dawn of colonial rule in very significant respects. in short, the positions of both Vihiga and Gusiiland within the colonial economy had changed dramatically by 1950 from what might have been anticipated by their situations in 1930. Despite Vihiga’s longer and more thorough involvement with colonial markets for commodities and labor, for example, it was Gusiiland where a high-value cash . . .

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