Farmlands, or agricultural landscapes, captures the interest of a number of researchers based at the Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University. On this blog we share information about research findings, activities, events and comments related to our work.

Our interest in farmlands has three roots: farming, landscape and society.
Farming as a practice, including farmers knowledge and labour investments
Landscape as society-nature relations, congealed history, and as space and place
Society as a short form for institutions, gender relations, political economy and scientific relevance

Most Welcome to FarmLandS!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

“When the land agrees” Perceptions of land and soils in Tot-Sibou, Marakwet (Kenya)

I recently participated in a workshop in Tot-Sibou village in Marakwet (Kenya), organized by the research network African Farming, an interdisciplinary pan-African perspective -

During the workshop I focused on local perceptions of land and soils in the village, comparing the current situation with field notes from my first visits to this area in the 1970s. I am now drafting a paper on this theme. Farmers examine soil fertility by colour and tactilely by feeling and touching. The aim of this engagement with soil is to determine whether the soil is “swelling” (meaning bursting with fertility, ready to be planted). Also other conditions are taken into account when decisions are made on what fields to cultivate the up-coming cultivation season, as for instance whether irrigation water can reach the fields and what crops would be suitable for different lands. The phrase used is “what will this crop eat?”.

Once a particular cultivation area has been identified a new process starts to find out if the land is not only fertile but if also the anticipated harvest will materialise; pests may destroy crops, rains may fail etc. A series of events, including the lighting of a fire and the observing of the actions of the resulting smoke, determine if the land “agrees” to be cultivated in the coming season. Having established this, it is time for the preparation and cleaning of irrigation furrows, clearing the land, fencing of fields etc. Fields are then divided between members of the localised lineages to create smaller family plots. The cultivation season proceeds via a series of events, which I argue are as much a socio-cultural concern as an agro-technical undertaking. In the paper I am currently writing I explore the interconnectedness of these practices. 

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