Socioeconomic factors influencing variety selection

At present, the primary means by which the in situ conservation of agricultural biodiversity resources is achieved is through de facto conservation achieved through farmers' choice of CGR. In order to understand the current status of agricultural biodiversity as well as where interventions will be necessary, it is important to document the socioeconomic characteristics of the farm households involved in growing specific crops. A primary goal of such an effort will be to identify the possible economic reasons for de facto conservation, or why the farmers continue to cultivate the traditional variety despite competition from other varieties. This may include anything from the cultural attributes of a specific variety or trait, to economic constraints that prevent the farmer from changing crop technology. Another important result of such an analysis is an assessment of whether farmers will continue with current cropping patterns into the future and what implications this may have for the sustainability of crop genetic diversity levels. Finally, the analysis will be used to identify the opportunity costs farmers may face in participating in programs directed towards promoting the in situ conservation.

Economic models have advanced various hypotheses for farmers' choice of CGR. In particular, the motivations for partial adoption of modern varieties, e.g. where farmers maintain a share of traditional varieties in their fields, has been the subject of several studies. One finding is that traditional crop varieties may have significant taste attributes, as well as ties to cultural practices such as seasonal holiday dishes. Crop varieties may also be valued for multiple uses, such as straw for fodder or the taste as vegetables when harvested fresh. A risk or portfolio approach to analyzing the question indicates that risk-averse farmers seek to minimize food or income risk by planting different varieties with different yield variances.

Several empirical studies have indicated that households maintain traditional crop varieties because of imperfect markets. Markets may be characterized by high transactions costs for important factor inputs, such as agrochemical inputs, labor substitutability between family and hired labor, or specific consumption traits that are lost in a market for commodities. Labor market integration, including opportunities for off-farm work and migration, will affect conservation because of the intensity of family labor involved in household crop production, plus the labor involved in seed selection and maintenance that participation in a conservation project would involve. An increase in the imports of staple crops or the availability of commodity substitutes may diminish the market niches for particular consumption traits.

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