Agriculture is the backbone of Kenya’s economy, supporting up to 80% of rural livelihoods. Kenya’s export horticulture is currently the leading agriculture subsector in Kenya and is regarded as an agro-industrial food system based on the economies of scale, producing for mass markets outside of the production area. Much of the food consumed from Kenya’s export horticulture sector has undergone multiple transformations and been subject to a host of formal and informal institutions (rules, regulations, standards, norms and values). Kenya’s export horticulture production, driven by rising global demands, has expanded beyond the ‘traditional’ mountainous high yielding areas into arid and semi-arid (ASALs) zones such as Laikipia County, Northwest of Mount Kenya. An anthropological study of export horticulture viewed as an agro-industrial food system in Laikipia County was carried out utilizing the new institutionalism theory in anthropology to explore the actors, rules and regulations linked to export horticulture production and access to common pool resources. The study employed qualitative data collection methods to collect data over an extended field work period of eight months. The data from 40 in-depth interviews complemented by unstructured observations, four focus group discussions and five key informant interviews was transcribed, coded and analyzed thematically based on the grounded theory approach. This paper, therefore, presents findings from the qualitative case study on the actors as well as the rules and regulations (the institutional settings) of export horticulture production and access to common pool resources from an emic perspective of the involved actors. The formal and informal rules and regulations which form the institutional setting in this food system are viewed as changing and defining the operations of the food system’s access and management of common pool resources, namely water and land. With the agro-industrial food system competing with local food systems such as agro-pastoralism and small holder agriculture for these scarce resources in a semi-arid zone, there is potential for conflict and reduced production, as well as overall benefits to the different actors in the study area.
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