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Abstract

This study records the use of hybrid maize seed and fertilizer by small-scale farmers in Malawi, as well as their opinions about these inputs, from 1989-90 through 1996-97. Its main purpose is to determine whether the principal constraint to smallholders' use of maize hybrids is the acceptability of the hybrid maize germplasm or the institutional reforms and policies affecting its use. The study also provides information about a practice that has implications for the impact of seed technologies and seed industries - the recycling of nonconventional hybrids (i.e., saving seed of an F1 hybrid to plant in subsequent seasons). Findings of the most recent farmer survey in 1996-97 demonstrate that the grain quality or yield characteristics of maize hybrids no longer constrain smallholders' use of F1 hybrid seed. Farmers stated almost unanimously that they wanted to grow F1 hybrid seed, but most could not purchase as much seed as they wished. A large number of farmers recycle hybrid seed, which is not surprising, given the early stages of diffusion of hybrid maize in Malawi, the start-stop nature of policies affecting input use, and free seed distributed by the government and NGOs. It may be worthwhile for researchers to investigate prospects for producing hybrids whose characteristics resist deterioration from recycling. Aside from this plant breeding issue, pressing concerns of national maize production, food security, and the welfare of smallholders remain to be addressed. Farmers with the resources to use credit, purchase inputs, grow cash crops, or produce maize surpluses represent a smaller and smaller percentage of farmers. It is doubtful whether complete reliance on private initiatives can transform the smallholder maize sector in a country that relies on agriculture as much as Malawi, but where infrastructure is inadequate, nonfarm employment opportunities are few, and incentives are insufficient to mobilize trade and generate cash in rural areas.

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