MPhil student Mpho Kanyago introduces her research project; she will be undertaking field work in 2019.

Maize is a common staple food across many cultures and accounts for approximately 72% of total production in South Africa. The North West Province is one of South Africa’s highest white maize producers and is also known for its diverse agricultural economy which comprises commercial, industrial and subsistence farming. There are different varieties of maize grown across these landscapes including traditional, open pollinated varieties (OPVs), hybrid and genetically modified (GM) maize.

Seeds are the basis for all agriculture and play an important role in the food system. Seed varieties enhance genetic diversity and help improve food security, adaptation and resilience. Traditional seeds play an important role by providing a sense of culture and social cohesion, which many communities are defined by. However, modern agriculture poses threats, such as GM contamination, to traditional seed systems which inevitably implies threats to food security in most communities. In practice, many farmers are not aware of the implications that may ensue with the adoption of modern seed varieties.

Since little is known about seed selection practices, my research project will focus on understanding the importance of these selection methods in the Sespond community located in the north-eastern region of the North West Province. This community predominantly practices subsistence farming, which can be linked to a high preference for local crop varieties.

The aim of this project is to explore how small-scale farmers in Sespond use seed selection practices to maintain the integrity of traditional varieties.

The research objectives are to:

  • Profile the demographics and agricultural practices of selected households;
  • determine what maize varieties are being planted in Sespond;
  • understand how maize varieties are being selected (characteristics and traits);
  • assess the molecular genetics of maize varieties in the study area through sampling; and
  • provide recommendations as to farming practices that can support the management of traditional seed.


The expected outcomes of this project will highlight understanding of the impacts of maize varieties on small-scale farmers’ livelihoods and knowledge in the Sespond community.