Maize seed choice and perceptions of climate variability among smallholder farmers

Kurt B. Waldman, Jordan P. Blekking, Shahzeen Z. Attari, Tom P. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Despite decades of research and interventions, crop yields for smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa are dramatically lower than in developed countries. Attempts to address low yields of staple crops in Africa since the Green Revolution through policies and investments in advanced seed cultivars have had mixed results. Numerous countries have heartily embraced and promoted hybrid cultivars through government subsidy programs and investments in research and seed multiplication. One possible explanation for why these programs have not resulted in more significant yield improvements is the challenge faced by farmers to select cultivars that are suited to their local environmental conditions. The question of what seeds farmers choose is exceptionally complex as it is often affected by local seed availability, the availability of information on seed performance, and the transfer of that information to farmers. At the foundation of this choice are farmers’ perceptions of different seed varieties coupled with their perceptions of climate variability. We examine seed choice in Zambia, a country with decades of hybrid maize seed development and supporting policies. We demonstrate how input subsidy programs and seed market liberalization have led to choice overload and a discontinuity in information exchange between farmers and seed companies. The decision making environment is further complicated by the heterogeneity in growing conditions and its variable impact on seed performance, which complicates characterization of seed duration at the farm level. Perceptions and biases related to climate variability effect seed choice, and potentially lead farmers to make risk averse decisions, which ultimately depress maize yields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-63
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Biases
  • Choice overload
  • Climate variability
  • Hybrid maize
  • Perceptions
  • Zambia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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