Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Geology and Geography

Committee Chair

Brent McCusker

Committee Co-Chair

Robert Maxon

Committee Member

Jeremia Njeru

Committee Member

Edna Wangui

Committee Member

Timothy Warner


This study examines the political economy of livelihoods and land use and land cover change in rural western Kenya during a period of economic change. The research findings are presented in three stand-alone papers. The first paper examines the initiatives and policies implemented by the state in the past three decades of neoliberal economic change and the implications for rural development. Policy documents and data obtained from interviews and surveys were used to examine how a shift in policies impacted three sectors of rural development: agriculture, infrastructure and commerce- in Vihiga County. The results indicate two political-economic moments that redefined the role of the state in development. The first moment which is associated with the reluctant adoption of neoliberal economic policies, registered poor macro-economic performance but maintained sustained support for rural households. The second moment which was marked with enhanced implementation of neoliberal policies saw impressive macro-economic performance, but with declining state support for rural households. The role of the state changed from being at the forefront of the development to providing an enabling environment for private enterprises to initiate and implement rural development programs.;The second paper focuses on the livelihood activities of rural households in Vihiga County, in the wake of neoliberal economic change. Using a mixed method approach, the study examines the current livelihood diversification options available for households and the changes to these options since Kenya's development agenda shifted from being state led to being market-driven. The findings show that the adoption of neoliberal economic policies contributed to the shrinking of livelihood diversification options for many households that are already grappling with sociocultural strains in the face of declining farm sizes. Many households have become poorer, cannot afford to educate their children and are chronically food-insecure. The few households that engage in cash crop production are vulnerable to both economic perturbations due to their heavy dependence on the market and to environmental perturbations such as erratic rainfall patterns.;The third paper examines the spatial dimensions of rural change over a 25 year period of neoliberal economic change, from the vantage point of land use and land cover change. The analysis combines social and spatial methods and draws from Neil Smith's and David Harvey's political economic theory to examine the production of nature and space on the rural landscape. Change detection done using Landsat imagery indicates some changes that include simultaneous loss and regeneration of forest cover, and expansion of road infrastructure. Other observable changes include some horizontal and vertical expansion of peri-urban centers. These landscape changes reflect on-going processes of enhanced capital penetration and commodification of nature which are associated with neoliberal economic policies.