Hybrid Maize Production and Climate Variability in Zambia (2016-6)

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Jun 26, 2017
Kurt B. Waldman

This case study examines the social and ecological implications of widespread adoption of maize and particularly hybrid maize in Africa. Maize was introduced to Africa roughly 500 years ago and now occupies the majority of cultivated land in most countries in Southern Africa. The maize plant is advantageous for African farmers for numerous reasons—it fits well into the farming system, has high grain yield, and all of the parts of the plant can be used. However, Maize is sensitive to changes in sunlight and water, is detrimental to the soil in terms of nutrient requirements, and is particularly susceptible to climatic events. While it provides the vast majority of calories for many African households, it is low in protein and various vitamins. Numerous institutions and policies have contributed to the widespread adoption of maize, particularly hybrid varieties of maize. This case study examines the current model of maize production in Africa, with a focus on Zambia. We assess the tradeoffs involved in wide scale maize cultivation, social and ecological feedbacks in the system, and critically explore the role of institutions in supporting maize cultivation. We focus on the role of institutions: examining how policies and how government, community and private seed companies have contributed to the current social behavior. The goal of the case study is to engage students in debate about a complex socio-environmental topic from the perspective of numerous stakeholders and to determine possible alternative policies at the level of the local and national government.

Estimated time frame: 
A few class periods
SES learning goals: 
  • Understand the structure and behavior of socio-environmental systems
  • Co-develop research questions and conceptual models in inter- or trans-disciplinary teams
  • Find, analyze, and synthesize existing data, concepts, or methods
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