Socio-economic empowerment of smallholder farmers through community based tourism in Meru South district of Kenya
Mutunga, John Kanyuithia
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Competing demands for livelihood support to the 80% of the Kenyan population dependent on agriculture and the national goal to steer economic growth have increasingly applied pressure, to the already strained sector, thanks to the few available alternatives. Kenya is endowed with immense potential for conventional and other upcoming types of tourism, such as Community Based Tourism (CBT). Like most of the other developing countries, Kenya is yet to exploit this potential. The study therefore came in to evaluate whether people actually know about the existing potential for CBT, why it has been minimally utilized and elaborate how best such potential could be exploited for socioeconomic empowerment of the smallholder farming community. The overriding theoretical orientation applied in the study encompassed stakeholder interactions, promotion and development of social capital and sustainable utilization of available natural and cultural resources through mutually supportive action processes. Though richly supportive, the available relevant literature fell short of explaining the phenomenal interactions between the bio-geophysical resources to bring forth mutual socio-economic empowerment at the community level, which therefore legitimized the principal focus of the investigation. Meru South was chosen as a study district due to the presence of a rich mix of environmental and socio-cultural phenomena, which if adequately exploited could turn the resource poor majority smallholder farmers into socially and economically empowered individuals and groups. The study was conducted in two phases; a qualitative prestudy phase which interviewed 75 public servants as key informants, selected through stratified random sampling at district, division and location levels of Meru South district. The pre study data was collected by use of a researcher administered interview guide. The detailed quantitative study covering eight randomly sampled locations out of the 24 habited ones in Meru South, reached to 400 smallholder farmers as the units of analyses of the study. Smallholder farmers, half of whom were youth aged between 25 and 35 years, were reached out by use of a researcher administered standardized questionnaire/interview schedule. The number of households to be visited was proportionately determined relative to the household population in each location, while specific households were systematically selected. Data from the qualitative study was analyzed using the Non Numerical Data Indexing Searching and Theorizing (NUD*IST) programme, to collect related ideas and formulate broad clusters from which the study later on isolated a total of nine dependent variables. Those variables turned out to be of complex nature, in this study referred to as the drivers for socio-economic empowerment and therefore measured through indicators which ranged between five and nine. The study premised empowerment drivers as those that fuel the processes of attracting tourists, extending their stay and/or increasing the frequency of tourists' visits to a locality for improved socio-economic gain to the host community. Data from the household survey was analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS), as to generate inter rater reliability (Kappa coefficient) at the indicator level, then variability analysis by use of means, standard deviations, t-test as well as F-tests all measured at the theme level of the study. Pearson's product moment coefficient was calculated to capture the presence, direction and the significance vi of the linear relationships between the core variables of the study, in line with the stated hypotheses. Results indicate that besides being highly educated by the national standards, the Meru South smallholder farmers are also entrepreneurial in character as they practice other non-farm income generating activities, with group activity being one of the most important. The two responder categories significantly agreed on most of the key tourists' resources available in the district, all the accruable benefits upon smallholder farmer participation in CBT, and some of the efforts towards utilization of the resources as the means that cumulatively lead to optimization of benefits from bio-geophysical resources relative to the first objective of the study. The study established that the potential for CBT has not been exploited due to the varying levels of commitment of the smallholder farmers to tourism as measured through a variety of indicators, as well as the existing impediments towards exploitation of the same, in which case the two rater categories significantly agreed in most the indicators, thus responding to the second objective of the study. Relative to the third objective, the study established that smallholder farmers could participate in CBT through strategic positioning to deliver the perceived tourists' preferences, utilization of their due diligence in packaging the venture relative to CBT facilitators and an overly adoption of the community based design and management options. Kappa coefficient results were cross checked through inter group variability analyses at the theme level, which revealed high degrees of consistency relative to the t-test and F-test. Significant difference was however noted relative to countering impediments and utilization of the community based design and management options, which were specifically attributed to the locality and education levels mostly among the youth. The four study hypotheses yielded credible information upon evaluation of the proposed relationships, which was in perfect conformity with the focus of the study. The same process yielded four other key relationships which were worthy noting for evaluation in the future. Results of the study and information from the literature review were used to develop a CBT interventional strategy that encompasses articulation, optimization and sustenance of benefits, as processes in enhancing smallholder farmer participation. The study concludes that being entrepreneurial in character, the smallholder farming community would easily adopt CBT as an alternative income generating activity; through accountable joint venturing. The community prioritized cultural tourism which appears consistent with the current preferential shift in the modernization path of the industry. The study further concluded that community participation is socially constructed and all encompassing from the design, through the realization of the investment to sustaining the operations towards optimal social economic benefits. Further on, the study concludes that optimization of benefits would heavily depend on the extent to which impediments to tourism are addressed, tourists' satisfaction is ensured and requisite marketing of the CBT as a product of the community's relative levels of knowledge of tourists' preferences is enhanced. The study recommends further research to identify why impediments are so strong in hindering application of CBT, capture the changing demands in the tourism industry and recommends resolution mechanisms to the underlying impediments. The study further recommends a comprehensive policy review to in-build flexibility for recognition and uptake of emerging tourism concerns and ensuring maintenance and preservation of the social commons.