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Maize farmer preferences for intercropping systems to reduce Striga in Malawi


In southern Africa the repeated cultivation of maize (Zea mays) and climate variability (especially frequent and extended droughts) have created conditions favouring parasitic weed infestation (e.g., Striga asiatica). In the past decade, Striga has reduced maize yields for smallholder farmers (cultivating less than two hectares), not only in southern Africa, but across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Parasitism of maize by Striga leads to significant grain yield losses. Intercropping legumes within maize-based systems has been shown to decrease Striga infestation and improve food security. Before cultivating these cropping systems, farmers consider different attributes associated with them (e.g., efforts or cost of inputs). Understanding farmers’ preferences for these attributes generates insights as how to increase adoption of intercropping as a Striga control practice. We use discrete choice experiments to identify the trade-offs which Malawian farmers are willing to accept among the attributes of choice scenarios for Striga control practices. Results indicate that farmers are willing (and in some cases unwilling) to sacrifice different fractions of maize yield for suppression of Striga, labour intensity, soil fertility and intercropped legume yield. Male and female farmers have heterogeneous preferences for these attributes. These findings have significant implications for Striga management and its effect on a crop that sustains the livelihoods of more than 80% of Malawians.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge input from Drs. Vincenzina Caputo and Tim Guetterman as well as Chilungamo Banda, Cyprian Mwale, the agricultural extension development officers of Malawi and the Chitedze Agricultural Research Station community. In addition, figure graphics were contributed by the work of Dr. Brad Peter and Mr. André Pires. This research was made possible with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its programs, Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING) and the Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security. The MAXQDA Research Software Company provided additional support through its #ResearchForChange grant. Finally, additional support was provided through a research fellowship from the Michigan State University Gender, Justice and Environmental Change program. Any errors or omissions are those of the authors.

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Correspondence to Timothy R. Silberg.

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Silberg, T.R., Richardson, R.B. & Lopez, M.C. Maize farmer preferences for intercropping systems to reduce Striga in Malawi. Food Sec. (2020).

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  • Intercropping
  • Legumes
  • Striga
  • Gender
  • Choice experiments
  • Malawi