Gender, ecology, and the science of survival: Stories and lessons from Kenya

TitleGender, ecology, and the science of survival: Stories and lessons from Kenya
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1991
AuthorsRocheleau, DE
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Date PublishedDecember 1991
Keywordsagroforestry; alley cropping; biodiversity; community forestry; cultural ecology; drought; East Africa; ecofeminist; ethnobotany; ethnoscience; famine; fodder trees; gendered knowledge; knowledge system; land rights; land tenure; on-farm trials; pastoralism; rural people; simple extraction; survival skills; sustainable development

Sustainable development and biodiversity initiatives increasingly include ethnoscience, yet the gendered nature of rural people's knowledge goes largely unrecognized. This paper notes the current resurgence of ethnoscience research and states the case for including gendered knowledge and skills, supported by a brief review of relevant cultural ecology and ecofeminist field studies. The author argues the case from the point of view of better, more complete science as well as from the ethical imperative to serve women's interests as the "daily managers of the living environment." In the interests of both objectives the paper advocates an ethnoscience research approach based on empowerment of rural people, rather than simple extraction of their knowledge. The Kenyan case study of women's agroforestry work follows their response to the drought and famine of 1985 and chronicles the unfolding discovery of women's ecological, political and social science as gendered survival skills. The case is re-counted as a story, in keeping with an explicit choice to learn through participation and to report through storytelling. The experience of rural women and researchers during the drought provides several lessons for both groups about their respective knowledge systems, their agroforestry work and the relationship of both to local and national political economy. (author)

The author states her concern over loss of culture and genetic diversity, realizing the importance of this diversity to the livelihoods of the poor people. If this knowledge is to survive, women must be included in literature pertaining to sustainability and indigenous knowledge. By including women in research it may provide an opportunity for them to redefine their roles in their households, communities and nations, as well as providing important information pertaining to diversity.


Paper initially presented at Association of Women in Development Conference: The Global Empowerment of Women, 17-19 November 1989, Washington, DC (18 pp.)

Number of pages

18 pp.


0889-048X, 1572-8366

Short TitleGender, ecology, and the science of survival