Beyond blanket solutions : examining the potential of community seed banks to improve maize seed security in Northern Malawi
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In Malawi, maize seeds are a sociopolitical currency and the Malawian government’s primary tool for addressing severe and chronic food and seed insecurity. The large-scale government and donor-sponsored seed subsidy program (FISP) favors the distribution of commercial hybrid/OPV seed in order to augment yields; yet policy analysis suggests that exclusively addressing these seed security through formal seed sectors risks undermining local systems of seed exchange. These informal systems have been documented repositories of locally-adapted crop varieties that possess a variety of desirable production and organoleptic qualities. Recently, community seed banks (CSBs) have emerged as an alternative, NGO-led development initiative aimed at improving local seed security through providing a plethora of social and economic services beyond germplasm storage. To understand the role CSBs in maize seed systems, 60 semi-structured interviews were conducted with smallholders in two districts of Northern Malawi as part of a cross-sectional case study. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected pertaining to maize seed access opportunities, farmer preferences, and patterns of seed adoption; findings were used to compare CSB members with non-members. Despite widespread interest in adopting commercial seed to obtain higher yields, farmers’ maize variety evaluations indicate higher levels of satisfaction for local varieties when considering production and post- production characteristics. CSB members show lower levels of satisfaction for commercial maize than other farmers. These findings indicate that CSBs can expand farmers’ frame of reference by providing members with both a variety of seeds that meet a diverse set of preferences and serving a platform for exchange and experimentation. CSBs can therefore be viable complements to formal seed systems by encouraging farmers to grow a variety of cultivars while also providing access to local varieties that possess desirable organoleptic qualities that commercial seeds generally lack. This study invites future research surrounding CSB viability, as its findings have wider implications for the potential of bottom-up, locally-based development interventions to improve smallholder farmer seed security in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Master's thesis project examining the potential of community seed banks to improve maize seed security in Northern Malawi using original data collected over 5 weeks of fieldwork in Malawi. Data collection was funded through the ACCESS Seed Security project (PI: Ola Westengen) at Noragric.