June Y. T. Po, Ph.D.

B.Sc. Biochemistry and Psychology (2008) University of British Columbia; M.Sc. Global Health and Population (2010) Harvard University; Ph.D. (Renewable Resources), McGill University (2017).


Interests: Rural development; Relationships between food security, land access and gender; Social epidemiology; Knowledge dissemination and community empowerment

Ph.D. Thesis:




Household food and nutrition security remains a major societal challenge, especially in the arid and semi-arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa. In smallholder farming systems, women play a critical role in improving household food and nutritional security as farmers, food providers, and primary care givers. However, women face multiple constraints in their access to land resources, limiting their livelihood potential. In response to calls to elevate women’s access and control to agricultural resources, this dissertation seeks to better understand how women’s access to land resources relates to household food and nutritional security. The research is set in the Kamba smallholder agricultural systems of Machakos and Makueni Counties in Kenya. It draws on a range of concepts including the sustainable livelihoods approach, social capital theory, theories of access, and social-ecological resilience thinking.

To better understand the formal and informal institutions governing land resource access in Kamba communities, I take a life stage perspective to identify how women navigate within local institutions to adapt to the various shocks and stresses affecting their land resource access. Drawing on 77 key informant interviews, twelve focus group discussions (n=134), and eight community meetings (n=363), the findings reveal that women use a diverse set of relational access mechanisms to prepare for, and adapt to, land resource loss. The confluence of local gender norms and legal processes of land registration appeared to constrain smallholder women from formal land ownership, although legal rights exist. The findings highlight that careful consideration of local institutions and gender norms is needed in policy reforms that aim to promote women’s access to land resources. Among the life stages, women in old age can be further marginalized, particularly in cases of grandmothers raising their grandchildren in skipped-generational households. Employing a livelihood asset analysis, I focus on grandmothers’ access mechanisms. The findings show that grandmothers’ social capital enhances their community networks, which in turn, facilitates their accumulation of other livelihood assets and household food and nutrition security. I then examine how different dimensions of social capital relate to women’s participation in agricultural decision-making as a proxy for their level of land resource access. Findings from the qualitative data and multi-level regression analyses of survey data from 206 women within 127 villages indicate that women actively used bonding and bridging social capital to acquire information and agricultural training. Village market place and local administrative office appeared to facilitate informal and formal information transfer, mediating bridging social capital’s association with women’s decision-making. Moreover, division-level education had distal influences on the associations between linking social capital and women’s decision-making, underscoring the presence of cross-scale interactions. Drawing connections to household food and nutritional security, I next examine the associations between childhood nutritional growth measures and women’s participation in agricultural decision-making using a cross-sectional household survey data from 221 mother and child pairs. Results indicate a significant positive association between child nutritional growth and women’s participation in agricultural decision-making, which is not observed with men. The results suggest the need for greater consideration of collaborative intra-household gender dynamics when promoting nutrition-sensitive agricultural practices.

This dissertation contributes a nuanced understanding of the institutional, social, and gendered elements in land resource access and household food and nutritional security among smallholders in semi-arid regions of Kenya.


Awards and Scholarships:

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canadian Graduate Scholarships: Doctoral (2012-15)

Margaret A. Gilliam Fellowship in Food Security (2015-2016)

Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science Seed Grant (Group Grant) (2015-2016)

Graduate Research Enhancement and Travel Award (2015)

Regroupement Stratégique Santé Mondiale du RRSPQ’s Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Competition (2015)


Project Publications:

Rahman, H.M.T., Saint Ville, A., Song, A.M., Po, J.Y.T., Berthet, E., Brammer, J.R., Brunet, N.D., Jayaprakash, L.G., Lowitt, K.N., Rastogi, A., Reed, G. and Hickey, G.M. (2017). A framework for analyzing institutional gaps in natural resource governance. International Journal of the Commons: Accepted.

Po, J.Y.T., & Bukania, Z. (2016). Land to feed my grandchildren: Grandmothers’ challenges in accessing land resources in semi-arid Kenya. In L. Brownhill, E. Njuguna, K.L. Bothi, B. Pelletier, L.W. Muhammad, & G.M. Hickey (Eds.), Food Security, Gender and Resilience: Improving Smallholder and Subsistence Farming. (pp. 55-72) London, UK: Earthscan.

James, C., & Po, J.Y.T. (2016). Banking on change: An ethnographic exploration into rural finance as a gendered resilience practice among smallholders. IN: L. Brownhill, E. Njuguna, K.L. Bothi, B. Pelletier, L.W. Muhammad, & G.M. Hickey (Eds.), Food Security, Gender and Resilience: Improving Smallholder and Subsistence Farming. (pp. 90-104) London, UK: Earthscan.

Other referreed contributions

Po, J.Y.T. & Hickey, G.M (2015, May). Do kids eat better when moms have more say on the farm: Women’s Access to Land Resources and Childhood Nutritional Status in the Semi-Arid Regions of Kenya. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of Population Association of America, San Diego, U.S.A. Retrieved from