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Determinants of Cereal Diversity in Communities and on Household Farms of the Northern Ethiopian Highlands


  • Samuel Benin
  • Berhanu Gebremedhin
  • Melinda Smale
  • John Pender
  • Simeon Ehui


On farm conservation of crop diversity poses obvious policy challenges in terms of the design of appropriate incentive mechanisms and possible trade-offs between conservation and productivity. This paper compares factors explaining the inter-specific diversity (diversity among species) and infra-specific diversity (diversity among varieties within a species) of cereal crops grown in communities and on individual farms in the northern Ethiopian highlands. Using named varieties and ecological indices of spatial diversity (richness, evenness, and inverse dominance), we find that a combination of factors related to the agro-ecology of a community, its access to markets, and the characteristics of its households and farms significantly affect both the inter- and infra-specific diversity of cereal crops. Factors that explain variation among communities in either the inter- or the infra-specific diversity of cereal crops differ markedly between Amhara and Tigray, underscoring the location-specific nature of any policies designed to support conservation. Policies appear neutral to the type of diversity maintained. That is, there are no apparent trade-offs between policies seeking to enhance the richness or the equitability among cereal crops or within any single crop grown in communities. Trade-offs may occur among crops, however. Policies that shape the access of communities and individual households to critical production assets such as land, labor, oxen and livestock will have significant implications for both the inter- and infra-specific diversity among the cereal crops they grow, differentially among crops. Education is usually positively related to both inter- and infra-specific diversity. As adult male labor is drawn out of farm production into non-farm activities, the diversity among cereal crops will decline, though households headed by women or with more adult women appear to have higher levels of infra-specific diversity. Growing modern varieties has no apparent effect on diversity of maize and wheat, supporting the conclusion thatin the northern Ethiopian highlands there may be no trade-off between seeking to enhance productivity through the use of modern varieties and the spatial diversity among named varieties of these cereal crops. So far, introduction of modern varieties has not meant that any single variety dominates or that modern varieties have displaced landraces, most likely because they have limited adaptation and farmers face many economic constraints in this environment. Landlessness and farm physical factors have differential impacts at the community and household levels. The role of markets in introducing or reducing cereal crop diversity is revealed to be ambiguous when we examine different geographical scales of analysis and inter- vs. infraspecific dimensions. If agrobiodiversity conservation is to be seriously considered as a policy option in these communities, applied economics researchers will need to 1) establish the relationship of cereal diversity conservation to private and social welfare, and 2) articulate the relationship between the names of varieties managed by farmers and infra-specific, genetic diversity measured through agro-morphological or molecular analysis. Methodological advance may be required to relate policies to diversity outcomes measured at various geographical scales or levels of aggregation in the same farming system. Specific issues for further social science research include the relationship of seed management practices, seed markets, tenure and soil conservation practices to diversity conservation, and the possible application of bio-economic models to the analysis of species and genetic diversity interactions with farming systems. For policy purposes, it will be important to better understand the particular institutional and social elements that cause communities to behave differently in terms of conservation than the individual household farms of which they are composed, and for some communities to conserve more than others.

Suggested Citation

  • Samuel Benin & Berhanu Gebremedhin & Melinda Smale & John Pender & Simeon Ehui, 2003. "Determinants of Cereal Diversity in Communities and on Household Farms of the Northern Ethiopian Highlands," Working Papers 03-14, Agricultural and Development Economics Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO - ESA).
  • Handle: RePEc:fao:wpaper:0314

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Falck Zepeda, José & Barreto-Triana, Nancy & Baquero-Haeberlin, Irma & Espitia-Malagón, Eduardo & Fierro-Guzmán, Humberto & López, Nancy, 2006. "An exploration of the potential benefits of integrated pest management systems and the use of insect resistant potatoes to control the Guatemalan Tuber Moth (Tecia solanivora Povolny) in Ventaquemada,," EPTD discussion papers 152, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    2. Linacre, Nicholas & Falck-Zepeda, José & Komen, John & MacLaren, Donald, 2006. "Risk assessment and management of genetically modified organisms under Australia's Gene Technology Act:," EPTD discussion papers 157, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    3. Gruère, Guillaume & Giuliani, Alessandra & Smale, Melinda, 2006. "Marketing underutilized plant species for the benefit of the poor: a conceptual framework," EPTD discussion papers 154, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    4. Bezabih, Mintewab, 2005. "Biodiversity Conservation under an Imperfect Seed System: the Role of Community Seed Banking Scheme," Working Papers in Economics 185, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    5. Mintewab Bezabih, 2008. "Agrobiodiversity conservation under an imperfect seed system:the role of Community Seed Banking schemes," Agricultural Economics, International Association of Agricultural Economists, vol. 38(1), pages 77-87, January.
    6. Di Falco, Salvatore & Chavas, Jean-Paul & Smale, Melinda, 2006. "Farmer management of production risk on degraded lands: the role of wheat genetic diversity in Tigray Region, Ethiopia," EPTD discussion papers 153, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    7. Smale, Melinda & Zambrano, Patricia & Falck-Zepeda, José & Gruère, Guillaume, 2006. "Parables: applied economics literature about the impact of genetically engineered crop varieties in developing economies," EPTD discussion papers 158, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

    More about this item


    Biodiversity; Cereal crops; Cereals; Community involvement; Crop management; Ethiopia; Food production; Genetic variation; Highlands; Household food security; Plant genetic resources; Resource conservation; Seed; Varieties;

    JEL classification:

    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q12 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Micro Analysis of Farm Firms, Farm Households, and Farm Input Markets
    • O0 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - General
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products


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