Thesis subject

What makes farmer (potato) seed-cooperatives tick?

For smallholder farmers to organise themselves in groups or cooperatives does make sense: together they have a better position to negotiate prices of inputs/services and by bulking up their produce they also enter the market as a more powerful player. An additional argument is that – in many situations in developing countries – as a group they are more eligible for (N)GO project support.

Seed production is a specific specialization around which smallholders may want organise themselves. Many seed sector development strategies see seed production by farmer-groups as an intermediate form of specialisation, and more adapted to agricultural conditions in developing countries than entrepreneurial-based seed production. However, despite the many efforts, there are few examples of farmer-groups/cooperatives that were successfully specialising in seed production. Few studies have been done to explain the failure or success of such groups. Potentially there are many pitfalls:

  • There is only demand based on the ‘novelty’ of the variety of which seed is offered
  • Farmers-clients are not able/do not want to pay a higher price for seed
  • The specialised seed production does not really offer any benefits, i.e. is not of higher quality
  • The group/collective breaks down because of failing individuals, mis-harvests or other events that stress the need for collectivity

Different research questions can be formulated around this phenomenon of seed production by farmer-groups, depending the case being studied and the interest of you as an MSc student. In Holetta, Ethiopia, a farmer-cooperative is succesfully producing potato seed since many years. They are apparently able to generate demand for the seed they produce and run their joint enterprise in a profitable way. What is the key to their success? How have they organised their potato seed production, what are their technical challenges and what problems do they face as a group?

We are looking for a student with

  • some basic understanding of potato cultivation
  • and, preferably, of seed systems
  • interest of doing socio-technical research
  • in Ethiopia

Collaborator: Stefan Schulz, CIP