Paul Bordoni reports back on his recent trip to Zambia

How are small-scale farmers making decisions with relation to seed in an increasingly modernised farming model? What are their motivations and what is the socio-political environment that governs their decision making?

Getting to grips with these questions will support an understanding of the implications of these decisions on agrobiodiversity and food security amongst small-scale farmers, their livelihoods, the landscapes they inhabit, and their social networks.

Between November 2014 and January 2015 I conducted my field work for the research project “The morphing of maize in southern Africa: Intersections of agriculture, livelihoods and markets” – and though the research is questioning agrobiodiversity, maize is a perfect point of departure. In Zambia farmers are only ‘real farmers’ if they tend maize amongst their crops and nsima – a thick porrige derived from finely ground maize – is so central to the local cuisine that its very presence defines a meal.

Information was collected through semi-structured interviews administered to 75 small-scale farmers living in Rufunsa and Mpanshya, two rapidly modernising villages. These villages belong to the newly formed Rufunsa District situated some 150 km from Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. Analyisis of the interviews, currently underway, should give insight into decision-making patterns and the motivations behind choices made by small-scale farmers exposed to an increasingly modernised and aggressive ‘farming is a business’ model.

This business model ‘talks’ to a cash-based economy which while important, might ‘forget’ about socio-cultural values, biocultural identities of farmers and the traditions that have accompanied farmers for centuries, an integral part of their livelihoods. The private sector is increasingly replacing the government, and along with this banks and loan schemes simultaneously represent threats and opportunities.

Some preliminary findings:

  • Whilst some farmers are very concerned about the loss of traditions and local plant genetic resources which they believe to be representative of their heritage, others are fine with this loss, and yet another group regards traditions as ‘sins’ that need to be eradicated.
  • It appears that certain families (who live in a defined geographical area) are more aware about intraspecific diversity.
  • The poorest do not belong to cooperatives, don’t use chemical fertilisers and use local maize. These farmers seem to be the most aware about the value of local maize.