Smallholder advice seeking and adaptation within the context of common pool resource management

Stacey Giroux, Kurt Waldman, Jordan Blekking, Patrick Kaminski, Tom Evans


Smallholder agriculture is critical to global food security, and farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are facing a range of challenges to which they must adapt. Decades of research has shown that communication among farmers is an important factor in uptake of new farming practices. In the context of adaptation to global environmental change, farmers can now choose from a wide range of new hybrid seeds developed to help manage problems associated with changes in the onset and duration of the growing season as well as unpredictable rainfall. While many studies of smallholders and networks focus on whether some aspect of the network or behavior of network members correlates with a particular outcome, in this project we ask, what are the organizing features of a farmers’ maize seed advice network, and what structural and attribute factors shape it? Further, we conduct the study within the context of an organization that facilitates management of water resources, that is, a community water project (CWP) in central Kenya, to test whether features of this common pool resource management system help organize the maize seed advice network we observe. As part of a larger, polycentric system of water governance in Kenya, CWPs exhibit institutional features such as collectively crafted rules and sanctions for water use; utilize physical infrastructure that promotes equitable distribution of water resources to member households; and require members to share responsibility for management and care of water resources and the infrastructure. We use exponential random graph models to understand this farmers’ maize seed advice network and examine associations among farmer attributes, joint household connection to the infrastructure of the CWP, household spatial location, and advice-seeking among 104 Kenyan smallholders within a community water project (92% of CWP member households). We find that the maize advice network is sparsely connected with many isolates, and that a shared connection point along the CWP infrastructure, in addition to differences in education, advice seeking outside the CWP, kinship, and household proximity, shape the maize advice-seeking network. In terms of structural features, the network is centralized with regard to the in-degree and out-degree distribution, indicating that only few farmers are seeking or giving advice. Our results suggest that, while characteristics that we might expect would facilitate advice-seeking behavior in this context, such as kinship and proximity, do so, the piped infrastructure of the CWP also shapes communication that can potentially help farmers make adaptation choices in the face of environmental change. Not only do social networks play a key role in shaping collaborative resource governance in social-ecological systems, but resource sharing and governance arrangements in turn can shape other interactions, whether intended or not. We close with discussion of these results in terms of their implications for farmer adaptation and management of common-pool resources in social-ecological systems.

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