Nodal farmers' motivations for exchanging sorghum seeds in northwestern Ethiopia

Rodier, Christophe; Struik, Paul C.


One of the main challenges of Ethiopian agriculture is the shortage of certified seeds of improved varieties, which results in uneven dispersal of quality seed amongst farmers. In a context where 80% to 90% of the seed requirement is covered by the informal seed sector, understanding how and why seeds are exchanged through informal channels is crucial. This study aims to describe why nodal farmers disseminate seeds at a higher rate than other farmers in their network. Following a social network analysis, in-depth surveys were conducted with identified nodal and connector sorghum farmers in order to determine the main social characteristics that differentiate them from other farmers in a western lowlands community of the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. We examined empirically the main factors that motivate them, the main drawbacks they experience, and the behavioral decisions that could potentially speed up or slow down the adoption of newly released improved varieties of sorghum. The study showed that, in this district, few significant socio-demographic differences exist between nodal and non-nodal farmers. The seed exchange network was hyper localized, as the majority of exchanges took place within village boundaries. Focus group discussions showed that a nodal position should not be taken for granted, as the network is dynamic and in constant evolution. In-depth interviews revealed that it was unlikely for accessing farmers to be consistently denied seeds due to a deeply rooted social norm insisting that one should not, under any circumstances, be turned down when asking for seeds. However, in practice, chronic seed insecure farmers suffering from poor performances may find themselves unable to access quality seeds, as automatic support should not be assumed. In terms of motivation, nodal farmers ranked maintaining friendships and relationships as the two most important. Thus, beyond the risk-sharing mechanism underlying much of the seed exchange, it is a mix of personal and community interests that motivates nodal farmers to have more exchange partners and thus disseminate more seeds on average than other farmers in the seed networks. This indicates that their social capital is the major driver to exchange seeds.