“Farmer rice variety choices in war: a case study in Sierra Leone” builds on earlier findings concerning farmer management of rice seed under low-resource conditions. It starts with a regional focus, drawing on methods from social and biological sciences, concerning the human and environmental factors shaping the composition of rice varieties grown by small-scale farmers in West Africa and then focuses on specific in-depth field studies undertaken in Sierra Leone.
The PhD research builds on the assumption that war in Sierra Leone caused a reduction in farmer rice seed genetic diversity. The scientific objective was to gain a better understanding of the principles underlying farmer seed selection. Which kinds of seeds are selected, and how is varietal diversity maintained (or lost) under a range of operational conditions, including extreme events such as war? The practical concerns relate to seed development and supply considerations in humanitarian crises. As shown, farmer varieties are the product of long and complex trajectories of selection governed by local human agency. In effect, rice varieties have emerged that are adapted to West African farming conditions. The diversity that farmers maintain in their rice varieties is understood to be part of a risk-spreading strategy that also facilitates successful and often serendipitous variety innovations. We advocate, therefore, that farmers and farmer varieties should be more effectively involved in crop development.