This article explores the extent to which efforts to improve productivity of smallholder agriculture through a new ‘Green Revolution’ in Sub Saharan Africa are likely to enhance the capacity of smallholder farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Drawing on empirical material from Malawi and Kenya, the paper finds more conflicts than synergies between the pursuit of higher productivity through the promotion of hybrid maize adoption and crop diversification as a strategy for climate change adaptation. This is despite an oft-assumed causal link between escape from the ‘low maize productivity trap’ and progression towards crop diversification as an adaptive strategy. In both countries, a convergence of interests between governments, donors and seed companies, combined with a historical preference for, and dependence on maize as the primary staple, has led to a narrowing of options for smallholder farmers, undermining the development of adaptive capacities in the longer term. This dynamic is linked to the conflation of market-based variety of agricultural technologies, as viewed ‘from the top down’, with diversity-in-context, as represented by site-specific and locally derived and adapted technologies and institutions that can only be developed ‘from the bottom up’.
This journal article stems in part from work done as part of our Environmental Change and Maize Innovations in Kenya project