Maize is a major Kenyan crop that contributes greatly to food and livelihood security. About 90% of Kenya's population depends on corn for their income. Small-scale farmers account for 75% of Kenya's total maize production. Maize accounts for 3% of Kenya's GDP and 25% of agricultural employment. Average yields are far below the regional level, creating serious food deficits, especially when rain is limited. Kenya's government has promoted the use of high-yield varieties (hybrids), but farmer needs have been ignored in developing these varieties. Farmers therefore continue to plant traditional landraces and varieties to reduce costs and harness the benefits of locally evolved genetic traits. Here, I studied whether promoting hybrid varieties has improved livelihoods and food security, and estimated the value of the traditional landraces. I analyzed data from small-scale maize producers in the Taita District of Kenya's Coast Province. The hybrids generally had superior quantitative traits (height, grain yield, stover yield, and grain size) when their agro-ecological requirements were met, but their potential cannot be achieved by rural farmers because of poor management, a lack of agricultural inputs, unfavorable biotic and abiotic factors, or a combination of these factors. In contrast, the landraces had superior qualitative traits (early maturation, drought tolerance, disease resistance, and good cooking and eating qualities). They are thus important sources of traits required for local adaptation, economic stability, and sustainability. Farmers conserve and sustain important genetic resources by maintaining maize landraces. This farm-level conservation allows continuing selection, environmental interactions, and gene exchange with wild species that sustain evolution of the landraces. Their performance demonstrates the necessity of strengthening and expanding in situ conservation programs to maximize the diversity and utility of these plants as source materials for crop-improvement programs. Involving farmers in managing a country's indigenous genetic resources is essential, as is “participatory” plant breeding, in which farmers guide the selection of new varieties.
Cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) is one of the most important root crops for food security in developing countries because it is tolerant to drought and low fertility, and it grows in a variety of climates. This study aimed to determine what factors led to the low adoption rate of improved cassava varieties by small-scale farmers in Kiganjo, Nyeri Municipality Division, Kenya. A survey of 80 farmers was carried out in January 2010 using a structured questionnaire to collect data. Thirty-two percent of respondent farmers did not grow cassava. The cassava adoption rate was higher for farmers with larger farms than for those with smaller farms. The adoption rate was closely related to farmer income. Farmers with income from cash crops and livestock adopted cassava cultivation at the rates of 82% and 73%, respectively, whereas the corresponding rates were 59% and 61% for farmers without income from these sources. The adoption rate for improved cassava varieties also was higher for farmers with income from cash crops and livestock than for farmers without such income. Farmers who were members of extension groups cultivated cassava and introduced improved varieties at higher rates than farmers who were not members. The adoption rate of improved varieties for farmers who cultivated cassava was 35% for extension group members compared to 18% for nonmembers. Farmer sex, educational level, age, and training on cassava did not significantly influence the rate of adoption of the cultivation of local or improved varieties of cassava. Extension agents need to find ways of more effectively reaching farmers with limited income and land resources because they are most vulnerable to food insecurity. Extension group members should accept the social responsibility of sharing planting materials with nonmembers to help them break the cycle of poverty.
Slash-and-burn farming in the Atwima-Nwabiagya district of Ghana has contributed to more fragile farmland and low soil fertility, resulting in very low crop yields. No-tillage is an agricultural practice whereby a crop is established without any prior tillage or burning of the land, and it was introduced to Ghanaian farmers by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in 1995. In this study, factors affecting the promotion, adoption, and impacts of no-tillage farming were assessed. Questionnaires were administered to 50 farmers categorized as: adopter (practicing no-tillage farming), deserter (abandoned the practice), or never (never practiced no-tillage). Slash-and-burn farmers used 16 man-days/ha for land preparation, whereas no-tillage farmers required 14 man-days/ha for land preparation. In-crop weed control required 12 man-days for slash-and-burn farming and 8 man-days under no-tillage. Slash-and-burn farmers employed 18 man-days/ha for harvesting maize, whereas no-tillage farmers used 24 man-days/ha. No-tillage farmers listed the following benefits of using this system: increased yield (18% of respondents), reduced labor (17%), conserved soil moisture (16%), improved soil nutrients (15%), increased farm size (13%), reduced soil erosion (11%), and reduced production costs (10%). Information on no-tillage practices was diffused by farmer-to-farmer information transfer. Most farmers practiced a mixed cropping system instead of a crop rotation system, and male farmers were seen to be more innovative and likely to adopt new technologies than their female counterparts. The reported challenges associated with no-tillage included poor society recognition of no-tillage practices, difficulties in planting through residues and application of herbicide, and pest invasion. The lack of no-tillage planters makes it rather difficult for large-scale farmers to switch from conventional farming to no-tillage. More effort is needed to investigate multipurpose conservation farming approaches suitable for fruit and crop production. Agricultural engineers and other experts must collaborate to develop suitable conservation agricultural tools and equipment for small-scale farmers to enhance agriculture production.
Livestock production plays important roles in food production and income generation for relocated rural villagers. These farmers were relocated from mountainous regions in an effort to reduce the practice of shifting cultivation as part of the government policy to conserve its natural forests and increase food security through improved rice production in the lowlands. Improvement of livestock production in relocated rural villages, which are generally small, traditional, and subsistence-level, has been given the highest priority in the Lao government's rural development strategy (Gleeson and Colling, 2006). To investigate the effect of livestock production on livelihood improvement in relocated villages, I performed a case study in Houakhoa village, in Long District of Luang Namtha Province, Laos. Data on socioeconomic factors affecting farmers' livelihoods after relocation were collected; these data covered 58 households that had been relocated from different districts and provinces in the period 1985 to 2009. Farmers were allocated to five groups according to the time of their relocation: group 1 (1985-1989), group 2 (1990-1994), group 3 (1995-1999), group 4 (2000-2004), and group 5 (2005-2009). The total agricultural land areas owned by group 1 and 4 farmers were significantly larger than those owned by group 5 farmers. The total household income increased in all groups after relocation. The reason for the income increase could have been improved access to various social services and information, including agricultural technologies. No significant differences in total average numbers of pigs or poultry were observed among the five groups. Income from livestock production tended to be more important and stable than that from crop production in all groups. Reorientation of livestock production from semi-subsistence or subsistence systems toward sustainable commercial production, together with exploration of the potential of livestock intensification, could therefore be among the potential alternatives for improving the livelihoods of relocated rural villagers in Laos.
Water deficit is a major constraint on upland rice production, and rainfall is the most critical and least predictable climatic factor. Both the distribution and the amount of rainfall during the cropping season are therefore key determinants of the yield of upland rice, particularly in areas with less than 2000mm of annual precipitation. To investigate the effect of levees on soil water retention and on growth and yield of upland rice cultivars, I conducted field studies in Savelugu Nanton district, Ghana, in 2009 and in Ibaraki, Japan, in 2010. In Ghana, local and improved African rice cultivars were broadcast on a farmer's field on poorly drained sandy loam. In Japan, African and Japanese upland rice cultivars were drilled in an experimental field on well drained Andosol. In both experiments, soil was mounded 20cm high and wide around plots as levees. Control plots had no levees. In Ghana, levees increased the paddy yield of local cultivars by 16% and improved cultivars by 22%. In Japan, they hardly changed soil water content or growth of the rice, probably because of the gentle rainfall and the good drainage of the Andosol. The results in Ghana indicate that farmers can reduce yield losses due to water deficit in upland rice culture by using levees, which reduce runoff and facilitate moisture infiltration in less porous soils. The levees helped maintain soil water content and thus improved the growth and yield of upland rice under heavy rain on poorly drained fields in Ghana.
Ethnic minorities in India mostly live by agriculture in hilly forested areas. Despite the various efforts of the government, the response of the ethnic minorities in modernizing agriculture has been rather sluggish. The greatest concern of the past research on ethnic minorities in India was how they could adopt mainstream agricultural technologies as a complete package. However, a field survey in a village of the Koya people revealed that they have a different idea of agricultural development. In this regard, this paper elucidates how they have interfaced modern technologies with their traditional cropping systems. The results show that the traditional cropping systems consist of invisible but knowledge intensive farm tasks such as decisions on fertilization and choice of crop/variety. During the survey period, an increasing number of villagers started cash cropping with large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Simultaneously, land lease contracts related to cash cropping have also been common. This paper also discusses the significance of this new trend in land use. The high-input system for cash cropping is costly and exposed to the mainstream market economy. Thus, cash cropping is accompanied by the risk of sudden decline in the selling price. The data shows that the land lease system has a function of redistributing cash income within a village community, and that the Koya people view land lease in a different light than reported in past research. In conclusion, this paper suggests that the Koya people can be a good example of a realistic alternative to mainstream agricultural development.