Our ‘Dual Focus PhD’ series tracks the working lives of our part-time PhD fellows. Many work at the highest of levels, both nationally and internationally, including for other parts of the UN System. They come to Maastricht for our unique PhD Dual Career Training Programme in Governance and Policy Analysis (GPAC²). This time Dr. Mindel van de Laar speaks to Casty Njoroge, who is pursuing a PhD alongside working as a Lecturer at the Technical University of Kenya
Your PhD revolves around the redistribution of land and its impact on agricultural outcomes; this is timely and relevant given climate change and its impact on food security. Can you elaborate on your dissertation topic?
The study aims at finding ways that can increase agricultural productivity in Kenya. Noting that the country has large chunks of land which are not registered and underutilised, the study will find out whether individual land registration has impact on agricultural productivity. Currently the country’s arable land is facing pressure due to rapid population growth. Over 60% of the population, the majority of who are poor and live in rural areas depends on agriculture as the source of their livelihood.
It is important to note that only 22% of the country land is registered. The rest is unregistered and used as community or government land whereby the residents do not have tenure security. This is the area that the study will focus on, it will analyse the areas that have been registered over time from community to individual ownership, and assess if there is change in the agricultural productivity.
The study aims to find out the factors that have influenced land registration in the country. It will assess the systems of innovations that have been put in place since independence to fast track land registrations in the country, analyse those who have had the clout to cause registration or not and how we can make it happen.
It will investigate several variables that associate land registration to increased land productivity. Among them; an analysis if individual land registration creates secure land rights that create incentives to the land owners and investors to undertake long term related investments that increases productivity; if land registration promotes usage of land as collateral to borrow credit from the banking system and the funds so acquired used to purchase more agricultural inputs; if land registration creates secure land rights that reduce the risks and transaction costs in the market, thus increasing the allocative efficiency where the best productive users have access to land; if secure land rights minimizes land conflicts caused by undefined boundaries or “intruders” in the communally-owned land and if absence of conflicts encourages the investors to invest on sustainable long term on-farm investments.
To achieve the above analysis, the study will use Remote sensed data that can analyze the agricultural productivity over time. This will go a long way in giving the direction of agricultural land use in the country.
How did you go about securing funding to conduct your research?
When my PhD proposal was approved in 2013, it proved difficult to continue with studies because I did not have funding to conduct my research which forced me to defer. This year, I received funding from the Ford Foundation, which has enabled me to carry on.
The foundation funds research in several areas one of which is natural resources and climate change, which is the area where my research fits in. Kenya is one of the countries where the foundation provides fund to, I discussed this prospect with the PhD Director, Dr Mindel van de Laar, and we agreed to pursue this possibility. The process of application is a rather open one. It involved email exchanges by the GPAC2 management team to establish an initial interest by Ford in the research topic, followed by several visits by me to their offices in Kenya to pitch the idea. Afterwards, I was invited to prepare an individual grant application, which had to be accompanied by recommendation letters. Luckily, a few weeks later the application was accepted and I dealt with the final administrative details so I could start working on my PhD.
How do your PhD and your job overlap? Will they benefit each other?
Currently I am a Lecturer at a Public University which not only overlaps with my PhD quite nicely but also creates a win-win situation for me and my employer.
Working at my university has given me many benefits vis-à-vis my research. First, through my university I was able to secure government authorisation to obtain the data I need. Second, my university will allow me to take relevant short courses that I need to pursue the research. Third, my University is willing put me on lighter workload in teaching so that I can have time to concentrate on the PhD. Last but not least, working within an academic community is quite beneficial given that I can use their facilities such as the library and I have the chance to consult with colleagues who are experts in my field of study. The PhD is also a personal incentive given that it is pegged on my qualification and attaining PhD will lead to my promotion.
My PhD will allow me to make an even more meaningful contribution to my University. The data collected can be used by the students in the department for further studies; the skills gained in research and analysis will go a long way in making me a better lecturer and improve my teaching performance and by extension the institution’s performance.
My experience engaging with researchers in the Netherlands may also lead me to spearhead the establishment of a think tank with members of my department which can advance the university’s research agenda. In addition, the University benefits from having staff with doctoral degrees given that there is a government requirement for a certain percentage of lecturers who have a PhD.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
UNU / Herman Pijpers