Kipsigis - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Although the Kipsigis have always cultivated a range of food crops, they are generally—but perhaps anachronistically—identified as "cattle-raising people." Nearly every adult male owns at least one cow. Milk is a favored food and is considered crucial for the welfare of young children. Livestock, which include goats and sheep, are a unique form of value, insofar as they remain an important part of bride-wealth payments. Nevertheless, livestock are but one component of a mixed farming regime. Like other farming activities, herd-management decisions are heavily influenced by market factors and cash requirements. There is a growing market for milk, which is sold through cooperatives to the government creamery, and a brisk trade in livestock at weekly cattle markets. Maize has largely replaced finger millet and sorghum as the staple food, although the latter are often grown on small plots for home consumption. Maize is also an important cash crop. Given an average harvest, nearly every farmer has some surplus to sell to the staterun cereal board. Some farmers grow maize on a commercial scale. A variety of vegetables is grown in kitchen gardens. At higher elevations, where soil conditions and rainfall are favorable, most farmers grow tea on plots that generally range between 0.2 and 2.4 hectares. Green leaf is plucked throughout the year and sold to state-run factories, where it is processed. The Kipsigis themselves buy their tea at local stores. Served with milk and copious amounts of sugar, tea has become a mainstay of their diet.

Industrial Arts. The Kipsigis are renowned for building handsome and durable houses. Many are competent tanners and leatherworkers. Some women still construct delicately woven food baskets and decorate gourds, which serve as milk containers.

Trade. Small stores, rarely more than 1.5 kilometers or so apart, sell the basic items—cooking oil, salt, sugar, tea, kerosene—that are consumed in nearly every household. Often the proprietors also run a diese1-powered mill that neighborhood women use to grind their maize. Market towns, which are usually within walking distance of many kokwotinwek, offer a wide range of consumer products and services that are provided by commercial artisans. There is a growing cadre of Kipsigis entrepreneurs who run all sorts of businesses; the transport business is the most popular. Weekly cattle markets are lively events: women come to buy and sell fruits and vegetables, itinerant traders buy livestock from farmers and bring them to market, and other farm products are sold directly to government marketing boards.

Division of Labor. Women do all the cooking, which includes the ancillary tasks of collecting water and firewood. They tend the kitchen gardens and often grow small plots of finger millet and sorghum. Women are also the caretakers of children. Men build houses, repair fences, and clear rough land. They provide veterinary care for livestock and, when the situation demands, perform autopsies. Major agricultural tasks involve the entire family and, frequently, cooperative work groups composed of kokwet members. Plowing with oxen is men's work. Planting maize is done by all available family members. Weeding is generally done by women. Maize is harvested by work groups composed of both men and women, who move in a round from one farm to the next. Plucking tea, which is a daily chore on plots of more than 0.4 hectares, is shared by all available hands. Many farmers also engage migrant workers to pluck their tea.

Land Tenure. By the 1950s, virtually all agricultural land was claimed as private property. Land is owned almost exclusively by men, but it is difficult for a man to sell his land if his wife or elder sons object. Title deeds devolve to a man's sons. The rights of unmarried daughters and their children to stay on the farm are recognized; however, there is as yet no consensus regarding what portion of the farm, if any, such women or their children can claim.


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