Seed sourcing networks and the adaptation of smallholder communities to climatic variations: insights from a Sahelian area in Senegal

Faustine Ruggieri, Ndeye Fatou Faye, Vanesse Labeyrie


Accessing to seeds of adapted crops is a key issue for smallholder farmers to cope with climatic variations, whether it is to recover after extreme events or to adapt to gradual changes. The seed sourcing networks smallholder use in both situations have rarely been studied. Little is known about the impact of their structural characteristics on the diffusion of varieties, although it has real implications for the adaptive capacity of communities. This case study brings a contribution to this issue by focusing on a Sahelian area in western Senegal that experimented both gradual climate changes and extreme drought. We described and compared the seed sourcing networks mobilized over time by farmers for adapting to both climatic changes and extreme events since the 1980s. Retrospective surveys were conducted in 126 households of two villages in order to document the seed sourcing events in relation with climate change or extreme events. This survey focused on the four main grain crops, i.e. pearl millet, peanut, sorghum and cowpea. For each seed sourcing event, we recorded the year, the variety sourced, and we recorded precise information concerning the seed source. These relational data allowed to reconstruct the closed network of seed circulation within each village, and the open network that include exogenous seed sources. Qualitative information was gathered concerning the drivers and motivations related to each event. Analyses were conducted to describe the diffusion of each variety over time. Social Network Analysis was implemented by combining the computation of connectivity metrics and statistical modelling (SBM and ERGMS) to describe the structure of the seed diffusion network of each variety in each village and explore its drivers. Results from the quantitative SNA were combined with qualitative data gathered during the surveys to discuss the differences in the dynamics of varieties diffusion between villages. Our results show that farmers mobilize seed networks when they want to obtain a new variety for adapting to gradual change or when they need to recover a variety lost because of extreme events. Most households generally obtained seeds through gifts from other farmers and purchases in local markets or state stores. However, the proportion of each seed source differs strongly depending on the crop species considered. SNA highlighted that a small number of households play a key role in diffusing new varieties. These are the wealthiest households with the most diverse variety portfolios. The two villages presented differences in the structure of their seed networks, especially regarding the density of ties within the village and the connectivity with exogenous sources. These differences could contribute to explain the differences in the dynamics of varieties’ diffusion, being slower in the village with the highest density and the lowest connectivity with exogenous sources. Our results provide insights on the linkages between seed network configurations and the capacity of rural communities to adapt to climate change, and raise perspectives for further research on this topic.

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