Human Ecology

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 217-229

Securing Access to Seed: Social Relations and Sorghum Seed Exchange in Eastern Ethiopia

  • Shawn J. McGuireAffiliated withSchool of Development Studies, University of East Anglia Email author 

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Access to seed is crucial for farming, though few studies investigate household-level access in the informal ‘farmer seed systems’ which still supply most seed in poor countries. This paper uses empirical data of seed exchange practices for sorghum in eastern Ethiopia to analyze how social relationships influence access to off-farm seed for a major crop. Seed shortfalls are common, and farmer–farmer exchange is important for providing locally-adapted seed to fill this gap, but access varies considerably among households, also affecting quantities supplied and terms of exchange. Preferred sources for off-farm seed (neighbors, government, market) also vary among farmers, reflecting agroecology and asset-ownership, but also differing access to these sources. Social network theories highlight the importance of reciprocal ties, and the cultural norms underpinning them, in accessing seed. These cultural norms are contested, with some claiming that commercial transactions are increasingly common. Implications for interventions supporting farmer seed systems, particularly emergency seed aid, are discussed in relation to the socially-mediated nature of seed access.


Social networks Resource access Mutual aid Seed systems Emergency seed aid Ethiopia Sorghum