Maize seed systems in different agro-ecosystems; what works and what does not work for smallholder farmers

Abstract

Maize is a food field crop with a highly developed formal seed sector. The study reported here, involving 4 case studies in Malawi, Zambia, the state of Chiapas in Mexico and the state of Bihar in India, indicates that smallholder farmers are increasingly purchasing seed from the formal maize seed system in these different parts of the world. Points of sale vary from seed agent and agro-dealer to the local rural market. Many farmers are growing hybrid varieties, although, in particular, under conditions where higher yields justify seed costs, and with the objective of maize grain sales rather than home consumption, for which traditional varieties continue to be grown. While the findings indicate well-functioning seed value chains in the areas of study, producer surveys and seed value chain analysis also pointed to significant weak links in the formal maize seed systems that need to be improved, such as certification and seed quality control at point of sale, and the availability of financial services to support investments by farmers in quality seed and in seed entrepreneurship. The seed subsidy programs in Malawi and Zambia are likely to have stimulated the use of hybrid seed, but it is questionable whether farmers will continue to purchase hybrid seed if subsidies cease to be available. Although the 4 areas of study are relatively well developed, still a genuine demand for improved open pollinated varieties (IOPVs), local varieties and/or on-farm seed saving was identified. Therefore it should be recognized that even for maize, in addition to the private formal seed value sector based on hybrid varieties, there remains a task for public maize breeding efforts and farmer based maize seed systems for the foreseeable future.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Seed of hybrid varieties of maize, is produced by crossing two or more inbred lines. Hybrid varieties have the advantage of higher crop uniformity and often higher yield potential than improved open pollinated varieties (IOPVs). Due to the skills required for seed production of hybrid varieties, they are usually more expensive than seeds of OPVs, while crops grown from seed harvested from hybrids are usually less uniform and high yielding compared to the original hybrid.

  2. 2.

    The Out of Poverty Index is a tool to estimate poverty among surveyed households. By including 10 country specific questions about a household’s characteristics and asset ownership in a survey, the tool results in the likelihood that the household lives below or on the poverty line: http://www.progressoutofpoverty.org/

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Acknowledgments

We are very grateful for the contribution of our local consultants Davies Melele and Parki Mbozi in Zambia, Alexander Phiri in Malawi, Juan Diego Lopez Durante and Fidel Ochoa Rosales in Chiapas, and Sanjay Tiwari and his team in India. We also like to acknowledge the invaluable advice and support of our CIMMYT colleagues Jens Anderson, Peter Setimela, Arturo Silva Hinojosa, Madhulika Singh and Pankaj Kumar and KIT colleague Marcelo Tyszler. This study was made possible through the financial and logistical support provided by the CGIAR Research Program MAIZE. Last but not least we are extremely indebted to all of the 1226 smallholder maize farmers who participated in our surveys as well as the 137 participants of our stakeholder workshops and interviews.

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Correspondence to J. Coosje Hoogendoorn.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants, such as the household surveys, were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Hoogendoorn, J., Audet-Bélanger, G., Böber, C. et al. Maize seed systems in different agro-ecosystems; what works and what does not work for smallholder farmers. Food Sec. 10, 1089–1103 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-018-0825-0

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Keywords

  • Seed access
  • Seed quality
  • Hybrids
  • IOPVs
  • Local varieties
  • Chiapas
  • Bihar
  • Malawi
  • Zambia