The study took a geographical and longitudinal approach as opposed to cross-sectional approach in detecting dynamic changes in livelihood strategies of smallholder farmers at two sites in Kabendera and Kiambogo, Central Kenya. The aim was to enhance the understanding of the ways in which households cope and adapt under increasingly evident and significant economic changes and agro-climatic events using the case of crop variety and livestock breed selection. It revealed that households engaged in various economic activities classified into five sectors namely: Agriculture, non-farm activities, livestock, forest product extraction, and off-farm activities. A partitioning of the households into four groups with reference to the sectoral composition of their annual net incomes revealed that all the four livelihood strategy clusters comparatively employed one dominant sector/activity with percentage contribution to annual net total income being above average and other sectors/activities playing a secondary role except for one cluster which is truly diversified. These were referred to as forest product extractors, non-farm activity entrepreneurs, diversified livestock keepers and agriculturists. The analysis of household’s coping and adaptation experiences using crop variety and livestock breed selection brought to light a multiplicity of criteria upon which farmers based their decisions. These were grouped into six explanatory factors: Geographic-environmental, economic-commercial, administrative, agronomic, socio-cultural and historical. On the basis of these findings, the study argued for place-based analysis at both household-level and local-levels in enhancing understanding of local-level decisions in adoption of different livelihood strategies in the face of changing economic conditions and agro-climatic events. Even though the study is limited to the local scope, it can provide a basis for designing policies aimed at rural livelihood security improvement to inform and facilitate targeting of outside interventions such as food security programs which can be built on existing livelihood strategies.
Key words: Rural livelihood, coping strategies, economic liberalization, drought, Kenya.
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