Women’s changing opportunities and aspirations amid male outmigration: Insights from rural Kenya


April 10, 2021

A new brief just published by CIFOR/World Agroforestry presents a study on the changing opportunity spaces of men and women in the drylands of eastern Kenya (Crossland et al., 2021). It sheds light on the dynamics of rural aspirations in relation to both gender and age within the themes of outmigration and feminization of agriculture. Using a novel methodology combining short narratives with semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions, this research contributes to a more nuanced understanding of aspirations and the wider socio-cultural context within which they are embedded and makes several recommendations for progressing aspirations research. The purpose of the research is to provide a better understanding of people’s current situations, desired trajectories and the influences that shape these aspirations, so that researchers and development actors might better tailor their support options to meet the needs of different user groups by matching technologies to their strategies and demands.

Key findings

Migration trends and drivers:

  • Mainly young men with families migrate to earn an income in Nairobi or Mombasa.
  • The number of people leaving is increasing due to poor rainfall and harsh farming conditions.
  • Migration is viewed as a household livelihood strategy.
  • The number of women who migrate is increasing but they are still in the minority.
  • Women are discouraged from migrating due to gender norms and safety concerns.
  • Men who migrate plan on returning in retirement

Increased agency or lack of choices?

Women interviewees believed that opportunities in agriculture had increased in recent years due to increased agricultural training and better knowledge of new farming practices. However, farming conditions were said to have worsened due to poor and unreliable rainfall.

Women saw farming as a way to earn income and provide food for their families, and their plans for the future included gaining access to water for commercial production of vegetables, poultry farming and starting small shops to sell their produce.

However, several women indicated that women’s involvement and interest in farming is born out of necessity rather than choice. This implies that, while women’s opportunities in agriculture are thought to be increasing, norms designating them as carers of the household and as vulnerable in urban settings, constrain their ability to explore opportunities outside of farming.

Aspirations survey: men’s and women’s envisioned futures

  • Most men and women perceived their stories as positive.
  • Women saw their world filled with fewer opportunities than men and were slightly less confident in achieving their goals.
  • Women envisioned spending more of their time farming than men.
  • Both genders cared about improving their farming.
  • There were distinct trends in aspirational focus with age and gender.
  • Men and women’s aspirations diverge and re-converge with age.
  • No men or women under 25 aspired to farm.

DOWNLOAD THE BRIEF to learn more>>

This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland
Cereals (GLDC), CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM), CGIAR Research Program on Forest, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), grant numbers 2000000520 and 2000000976, project “Restoration of degraded land for food security and poverty reduction in East Africa and the Sahel: taking successes in land restoration to scale”.


Webinar series in Sept-Oct 2021: Insights on the differential effects on the benefits that women and men derive from value chain participation.


While communal land systems are often imagined as existing and evolving separately from the state and wider influences, the reality is more complex.


Join our webinar on September 14, 10-11 AM EDT! Presenters: Cheryl Doss (Oxford University/PIM) and Nozomi Kawarazuka (CIP).

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