African rice (Oryza glaberrima) cultivation in the Togo Hills: ecological and socio-cultural cues in farmer seed selection and development

B.W.E. Teeken

Research output: Thesisexternal PhD, WU



Teeken B (2015). African rice (Oryza glaberrima) cultivation in the Togo Hills: ecological and socio-cultural cues in farmer seed selection and development. PhD thesis, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, 306 pp.

The low adoption rates of modern technologies in West Africa, such as improved rice varieties, suggest a gap between the motivations of farmers and development agencies. Many smallholder rice farmers in West Africa continue to rely on farmer varieties, farmer saved seeds and farmer seed system innovations. A better understanding of local farming practices and how they relate to farmer communities and their culture, as well as to the landscapes and climate within which the crop is grown might result in more successful initiatives to strengthen rice cultivation and improve food security and the livelihood of the many small scale rice growers in West Africa. As African rice has never been improved scientifically or commercially it is an important entry point to study farmers’ variety selection and development. By studying farmer variety selection and development related to African rice within the Togo Hills in Ghana and Togo, a region that is ecologically as well as political-economically  and culturally diverse, the research presented in this thesis tries to unravel the interactions between genetics, ecology and society (G × E × S).

Results show that in the Ghanaian Togo Hills cultural factors set additional and rice diversity enhancing criteria for selection, while in Togo selection criteria are mostly pragmatically agronomic and ecological factors dominate. This can be understood by the higher necessity in Ghana to construct identity and autonomy within the larger and more dynamic economic and political powers of competition and individualization. Here African rice has become a tool to shape such identity. Despite the ecological, cultural and political-economic differences within the Togo Hills, farmers in all the case studies selected a set of different varieties used for different purposes rather than a uniform type. This can be seen as a continuation of their earlier dynamic history in which the maintenance of diversity was part of a risk spreading strategy facilitating emergent innovations that suited such dynamics. Other examples from West Africa also show the different combinations of social and natural factors within the maintenance of rice diversity. Importantly farmers in West Africa have developed varieties that are robust and versatile: able to perform in very different ecologies and societal settings. African rice was found to be particularly robust.

This research therefore shows the importance of the “genealogies” between the genetic, the ecological and the social within variety development and food security issues. Therefore, it is the task of science to take an evolutionary perspective. These genealogies and their products should be made visible and need juxtaposition to formal scientific breeding strategies, strategies to tackle food security and agricultural and societal development issues in general. This indicates that there is a systemic alternative to a top-down Green Revolution in Africa. Trajectories of interaction between the social and the natural have produced a large variety of versatile resources and are crucial within tackling development issues in areas where such trajectories took place: there where farmer conditions are dynamic and suboptimal. Instead of anthropologically mapping local cultural preferences (these can change quickly over time and can vary over small distances) it is much more fruitful to emanate from and also disseminate the varieties farmers have already developed themselves.



Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Richards, Paul, Promotor
  • Struik, Paul, Promotor
  • Maat, Harro, Co-promotor
  • Nuijten, Edwin, Co-promotor
Award date1 Sept 2015
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789462574359
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2015


  • oryza glaberrima
  • rice
  • family farms
  • improved varieties
  • social customs
  • food security
  • africa


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