Linking seed networks and crop diversity contributions to people: A case study in small-scale farming systems in Sahelian Senegal


CONTEXT Small farms rely on a range of nature’s contributions to people (NCPs) provided by crop diversity, covering both material and immaterial dimensions that are crucial for livelihoods and well-being. The maintenance of these NCPs over time, despite perturbations, is a key component of small farms' resilience. However, the processes involved in farmers accessing the different NCPs provided by crops are largely unknown. Such knowledge would be instrumental for evaluating the vulnerability or resilience of farmers to potential disruptions that affect these distribution channels. OBJECTIVE In this study, we analyzed how the seed provisioning networks used by farmers to access crops relate to the different NCPs they receive from these crops, through a case study in Sahelian Senegal. METHODS Field surveys were conducted with 85 farmers, half men and half women, from two villages. The surveys documented which varieties of three important staple crop species (pearl millet, cowpea, peanut) farmers grew. Farmers were asked to cite their motivations for cultivating each variety as a proxy for NCPs, and to explain from where they obtained the seeds of each variety of these three species. We mobilized recent developments in Social-Ecological Network research, representing the relationships between social entities (i.e., farmers and seed sources), ecological entities (i.e., crops), and NCPs (i.e., motivations) as networks. We applied a block model clustering approach to analyze these relationships by testing if particular seed sources were associated with particular motivations, and if differences existed between men and women. We also analyzed households' profiles according to the motivations they cited and the seed sources they were connected to. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS We found that some crops contributions were related to different seed sources, for instance crops associated to food provision were sourced through markets, peers, and legacy, while other contributions were related to one seed source type, for instance crops associated to attachment were sourced exclusively through legacy. Women relied on a more limited pool of seed sources than men, and they preferentially source seeds from peers. Last, two groups of households were differentiated based on the number of crops contributions and of seed sources they mentioned. SIGNIFICANCE Our study brings insights on how the observed social-ecological network patterns affect the access of men and women farmers to NCPs, and the consequences for the maintenance of NCP provision in the face of perturbations. It contributes to unraveling the processes involved in the resilience of small farms that rely on crop diversity for their livelihoods.

Agricultural Systems