"New" seed in "old" China : impact of CIMMYT Collaborative Programme on maize breeding in South-Western China

Y. Song

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    China is the most populated country with the most limited amount of arable land per head of the population in the world. Development and distribution of modern varieties of the three staples, rice, wheat and maize, to insure national food security, have been the core tasks and first priority of its public research and extension systems since the early 1960s. This approach has been very successful resulting from the public effort and the initiatives and incentives of farmers. However, since the beginning of 1980s, China has begun to reform its economic and institutional systems and is experiencing a socio-economic transition period, from a planned economy towards a more market-oriented economy.

    New policies have been introduced and great changes have occurred in the social and economic context over the past 15 years. The changes that directly relate to agricultural innovation and food production are two important ones; rural reform started at the end of 1970s and commercialization of the public research and extension systems in the 1990s. As a result, more subsequent changes are emerging in the agricultural structure, the division of labour in the rural areas, and in the research orientation and incentives of public research and extension institutions. How to ensure food security, at both the national and farmers' household levels, through technology development and diffusion under the current circumstances in China becomes the main concern of this study.

    This book focuses on the impact of agricultural technology and relevant key factors in food security. It uses a social constructivist perspective, not only in assessing the impact of technology, but also in tracing the whole process of technology development and diffusion as a social construction. The Collaborative Programme between CIMMYT and Chinese NARS on Maize Breeding in South-western China which started at the end of 1970s and which paralleled the reforms and experienced the changes, serves as an unique case for conducting a comprehensive assessment and analysis. It is expected that the impact study of the Programme will generate valuable insights into the future options and prospects for China's agricultural research and extension systems and highlight the emerging issues of food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable agricultural development in China.

    The main objectives of the study are:

    to evaluate the impact of CIMMYT derived technologies in terms of their adoption by farmers (yield, surface, type of technology adopted). This includes farmers' assessment of the technologies, the way they apply them, their sources of information, their access to inputs, and the market of the produce at the local level.to study how the technologies were developed, the institutional contexts within which this happened, the objectives and perspectives of the scientists and officials involved. The focus of this part of the study is on the analysis of the principal institutional and organisational factors influencing the design, development and diffusion of the technologies.to identify the actors in the networks involved in the process of agricultural technology development and diffusion and examine ways for better linkage, integration and interaction between IARCs, NARS and the farmers' informal system, between formal science and indigenous science, and to find ways to tie into farmers' indigenous livelihood processes.

    Multiple perspectives and indicators have been adopted and used in a comprehensive and complementary way to study the impact of CIMMYT-related technology at both the macro and micro-levels, in terms of the general increase in yields and coverage at the provincial levels and the farmers' responses and strategies with respect to the technology at the household level. Subsequently, the institutional context for technology development and distribution, as well as the farmers' indigenous knowledge development practices are analysed and reflected upon from a perspective influenced by the literature on the social construction of technology in order to reveal the processes through which technology and innovation are shaped by social action.

    Empirically the study is designed into three major phases, i.e., exploratory, qualitative and quantitative. After the exploratory study at macro level, two distinct production environments, a relatively favourable area and a resource-poor and unfavourable area, are selected for an in-depth comparative case study using both qualitative and quantitative methods to address the emerging issues at the micro-level. The qualitative study is conducted through an in-depth investigation and participatory observation of farmers' responses and strategies towards the technology in the two contrasting farming systems. The quantitative study is carried out through a formal questionnaire survey of 200 farmers selected randomly from the two distinct case study areas. The research results of the three phases of field research were cross-checked with data and evidence obtained through different research methods.

    The main empirical and theoretical findings of the research are:

    The macro-level impact of the Programme in the three South-western provinces, made visible by mainly by government's statistics, As denoted above, generally speaking, is large with respect to the total release of MVs, their wide adoption, and the increment in maize production and productivity in the last 15 years.

    Further in-depth study revealed the large variation between regions and differentiation among farmers, in terms of gender, in adapting to the MVs, which mainly resulted from the changes which emerged after the recent reforms. With a single-minded purpose to increase productivity so as to ensure national food security, and driven by market incentives, most public efforts went into the development and diffusion of uniform high yielding MVs, especially single-cross F1 hybrids. As a result, regional variation and user differentiation, in terms of gender, are largely neglected in the technology design, development and distribution process by the formal knowledge system. This has generated differential impacts among rural people, by environment and by gender, at micro-level.

    Feminisationalization of agriculture has become a common phenomenon in the research area as a result of male-migration. In both favoured and difficult maize farming systems, women are playing a dominant role in food production and are fully responsible for post-harvest operations, seed selection and storage, and food processing activities. In most cases, women are seed selectors and plant breeders. However, women's significant role is not recognised and their specific needs, interests, and expertise are largely neglected in the technology design, development and diffusion process. As a result of productivity driven and gender-biased policies, the women farmers, who are overloaded by their multiple roles, are struggling to sustain the food security of their households and the state in the face of enormous constraints and difficulties. Under such circumstances new technologies have generated costs as well as benefits for rural women, especially these in poor marginal areas.There exists a large gap between farmers' heterogeneous needs and interests determined by their variable farming systems and livelihoods and the breeders' single minded pursuit of, and interest in, yield. This is especially true for poor farmers, mainly women, cultivating in harsh farming systems in remote marginal areas. However women farmers were making efforts to meet their own needs with their indigenous knowledge and through their own informal system.The real causes for the failure of the formal breeding programme to address the variation of farming systems and to respond to the heterogeneous needs of farmers in marginal areas are institutional rather than technical. Theoretically, from a constructivist point of view, the research revealed that three major constructions of the knowledge networks can be distinguished with respect to the technology development and distribution efforts of the Programme: Each is shaped by different social forces and contexts in different historical periods and each operates at different levels.

    Confronting the emerging challenges of the new social context, a more flexible institutional framework and comprehensive approach is needed to integrate more complex, varied perspectives in order to manoeuvre among the different policy goals, i.e., productivity, sustainability, equity and stability, based on a more adaptive, rather than a controlling, strategy. Recommendations have been made for the improvement of the Programme in particular and for the public agricultural knowledge system in general.

    A combination of the present modern technology-oriented approach and participatory approaches to involve farmers, mainly women, and their indigenous knowledge, and traditional farming practices, seems realistic and necessary to deal with the emerging issues. The combination of the approaches leads towards a more flexible, diverse, and sustainable approach, allowing agriculture to take account of the heterogeneous needs of farmers, especially the specific needs and interests of women farmers and the basic dynamics of the agro-ecosystem. Only so could it be possible to change from agricultural management targeted only at productivity to more responsive and adaptive management for sustainable agricultural development.Decentralisation of the formal systems and involvement of farmers in the technology design and development process is necessary and essential to stimulate collaboration between the two systems. The informal sector needs to know more about the complex ways of biotechnology, while the formal system need to know more about the complexity of poor farmers' farming system and their livelihoods. For instance, the importance of farmers' knowledge of landraces and their understanding of the micro-variations in the environment could become the basis for local level breeding or location-specific breeding. Through farmers' participation and cooperation, breeders can gain new insight in criteria, objectives, or evaluation techniques of farmers and the differentiation between regions and types of farmers (in terms of gender). As a result, appropriate varieties within a wide range of options can be produced to meet the heterogeneous needs resulting from regional variation and user differentiation.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Röling, N.G., Promotor
    • Richards, P., Promotor, External person
    Award date14 Oct 1998
    Place of PublicationWageningen
    Print ISBNs9789054859680
    Publication statusPublished - 1998


    • breeding programmes
    • extension
    • farmers
    • needs assessment
    • technology transfer
    • participation
    • indigenous knowledge
    • knowledge
    • systems
    • china


    Dive into the research topics of '"New" seed in "old" China : impact of CIMMYT Collaborative Programme on maize breeding in South-Western China'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this