Seed Struggles and Food Sovereignty in Northern Malawi

Citation:

Kerr, Rachel Bezner. 2013. “Seed Struggles and Food Sovereignty in Northern Malawi.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 40 (5): 867-97.

Author: Rachel Bezner Kerr

Abstract:

In this paper I use seeds in Malawi as both an analytical lens and an empirical focus of study to examine how food sovereignty is threatened or enhanced in a particular location and time. I argue that while food sovereignty was eroded for smallholders through neoliberal reforms to the agricultural system, community and kin practices help to maintain food sovereignty. The intersection of gender and class dynamics, combined with state policies, however, works to undermine food sovereignty for particular groups in northern Malawi. Historical processes of exclusion, dispossession and exploitation changed the division of labour and reduced time and land for diverse farming systems. State policies reduced knowledge and availability of preferred local varieties. While peasants, particularly women, have considerable knowledge of seed varieties, and seeds continue to be exchanged in agrarian communities, young women, tenant farmers, food insecure younger couples and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-affected families are particularly vulnerable to reduced food sovereignty, in part due to gender inequalities, unequal land distribution and social stigma. New efforts to strengthen food sovereignty need to build on community and kin relations, while addressing social inequalities. Understanding the struggles and relations linked to seeds helps us to understand ways in which food sovereignty is undermined or strengthened.

Keywords: Malawi, food sovereignty, maize, seeds, agrobiodiversity, gender

Topics: Agriculture, Class, Gender, Health, HIV/AIDS, Households, Livelihoods, Rights, Security, Food Security Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Malawi

Year: 2013

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