Placing farmer preference for new farming techniques in a social context: A case study of maize farming and resilience in Central and Southern Malawi
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Smallholder maize farming is the backbone of rural livelihoods in Malawi, but increasing droughts and floods combined with deteriorating soil fertility have placed that system in a precarious position from which to face climate change. Adopting new farming techniques that replenish soil nutrients and are more resistant to drought is thus an important process to understand because of its potential to build resilience amongst smallholders and protect food security. This project sought to conceptualize the processes by which farmers in Malawi adopt new farming techniques for their maize crops with the hopes of generating information that could be used in an Agent Based Model. The project used mixed methods to quantify farmer preference for the inherent qualities of different farming techniques, and qualitative methods to examine the contexts within which those preferences are formed and changed. A special focus of the analysis was on the process of using two epistemologically different methods and examining the strengths and weaknesses of that process. Farmers were interviewed in Central and Southern Malawi, and their preferences for new techniques were statistically relevant for yield and inputs but not labor. Qualitative work identified emergent themes among smallholders paying particular interest to participation and the role of local structures. Conclusions recommend mixed methods and advocate for searching for ways to use ABM techniques to incorporate ideas of shifting social context into models for resilience.