PEP awarded special research grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

Assessing the impact of segmented markets of fresh produce on productive employment in Kenya


In June 2014, PEP was awarded a special research grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) - WOTRO Science for Global Development, through a competitive call for research proposals on "Productive Employment" under the "Research for Inclusive Development in Sub-Saharan African" (RIDSSA) programme.

As the lead institution of a special consortium formed for this particular project, PEP will be working in close collaboration with several partner institutions to conduct an analysis of the impact of structural transformations within the dynamic fresh produce sector on productive employment in Kenya, with a focus on the avocado production sector. Besides PEP, the institutions involved in this consortium include two in the Netherlands - VU University Amsterdam (VU), the Amsterdam Institute for International Development (AIID); two in Kenya (local stakeholders) - the University of Nairobi (UoN), the Fresh-Produce and Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK); and one in Peru - Grupo de Analisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE).

Productive Employment in Segmented Markets of Fresh Produce
Analyzing the case of avocado production in Kenya

Consumers in Europe have learned to appreciate the quality of Kenya’s fresh agricultural produce over the last decade. The achievements of its horticulture sector, which engages over half a million farmers, are impressive and the country’s agricultural exports have reached US$1 billion annually. This success has been due to the emergence of modern, innovative and programmed production by farmers that are exporting directly to high-value markets and trading companies that meet Global Good Agricultural Practice (GlobalGAP) standards. At the same time, many smaller growers are serving the domestic market and/or selling to collectors and middlemen that cannot, or do not want to, adhere to global standards. The upshot of this is that the process of structural transformation is creating a modern (programmed) and a traditional (non-programmed) agricultural sector. How is this segmentation impacting on ‘productive’ employment in Kenya, for example, in terms of decent income levels, income stability, gender and working conditions? Are working conditions in the modern sector better? And what are the prospects for youth and women?

This project is focusing on the avocado sub-sector, which now accounts for nearly two-thirds of Kenya’s fresh-fruit exports. Growing avocados that can be exported to GlobalGAP standards requires high-level skills, and growth in the modern and traditional segments of this sector has thus differed substantially. At the same time, however, international competition is emerging on the world market for avocados and one of the new competitors, namely Peru, will be studied for comparative purposes.

The project is using a mixed-methods approach, including systematic review and expert interviews, to assess the effect of selected interventsion on productive employment. This will complement new and important primary data that will be collected by means of two surveys (an avocado growers’ survey and a farm workers’ survey) in an attempt to reach the main local stakeholders. A participatory workplace appraisal (through focus groups) may also be included.

Main research questions

  • What characterizes employment in the segmented labour market of fresh produce in Kenya?
  • How does the nature of productive employment vary in the programmed and non-programmed worlds in the avocado sector?
  • What interlinkages are there between the programmed and non-programmed worlds in the avocado sector?
  • How do policies and practices affect the generation of productive employment, especially for smallholder farmers, women and youth in Kenya?
  • What can be learned from Peru’s recent export success in the avocado market regarding enhanced opportunities for inclusive growth and productive employment?

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