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Good year, bad year: changing strategies, changing networks? A two-year study on seed acquisition in northern Cameroon

Chloé Violon, Université Paris Ouest; Laboratoire d'Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative (LESC - UMR 7186)
Mathieu Thomas, INRA, UMR 0320 / UMR 8120 Génétique Quantitative et Évolution - Le Moulon; CNRS, Centre d'Écologie Fonctionnelle et Évolutive: UMR 5175; CESAB/FRB
Eric Garine, Université Paris Ouest; Laboratoire d'Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative (LESC - UMR 7186)


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Analysis of seed exchange networks at a single point in time may reify sporadic relations into apparently fixed and long-lasting ones. In northern Cameroon, where environment is not only strongly seasonal but also shows unpredictable interannual variation, farmers’ social networks are flexible from year to year. When adjusting their strategies, Tupuri farmers do not systematically solicit the same partners to acquire the desired propagules. Seed acquisitions documented during a single cropping season may thus not accurately reflect the underlying larger social network that can be mobilized at the local level. To test this hypothesis, we documented, at the outset of two cropping seasons (2010 and 2011), the relationships through which seeds were acquired by the members of 16 households in a Tupuri community. In 2011, farmers faced sudden failure of the rains and had to solicit distant relatives, highlighting their ability to quickly trigger specific social relations to acquire necessary seeding material. Observing the same set of individuals during two successive years and the seed sources they solicited in each year enabled us to discriminate repeated relations from sporadic ones. Although farmers did not acquire seeds from the same individuals from one year to the next, they relied on quite similar relational categories of people. However, the worse weather conditions during the second year led to (1) a shift from red sorghum seeds to pearl millet seeds, (2) a geographical extension of the network, and (3) an increased participation of women in seed acquisitions. In critical situations, women mobilized their own kin almost exclusively. We suggest that studying the seed acquisition network over a single year provides a misrepresentation of the underlying social network. Depending on the difficulties farmers face, they may occasionally call on relationships that transcend the local relationships used each year.

Key words

agrobiodiversity; climate variability; gender; kinship relationships; longitudinal network analysis; seed exchange networks

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087