The contribution of strong and weak ties to resilience: The case of small-scale maize farming systems in Mexico
CONTEXT: The relevance of social interactions (social ties) to farming systems’ resilience is widely recognized. However, controversies exist around the contribution that farmers interacting with external actors (weak/bridging ties) versus with other farmers (strong/bonding ties) have in their resilience strategies through innovation. Farmers use different strategies to respond to their farming systems and contexts’ particularities. Comparing the contribution of both strong and weak ties in different farming systems brings variety in resilience strategies. OBJECTIVE: To generate evidence of the complementary contribution of social ties to resilience by comparing indexes associated with strong and weak ties from innovation networks of different farm types. METHODS: This paper applies an ego-centric social network analysis to farm units characterized by a farm typology to compare their strong/bonding and weak/binding ties contribution to innovation networks. It uses data from 29,796 farm units of maize smallholders in different regions from Central and Southern Mexico covering the gradient from commercial to subsistence farming. The analysis estimates two indexes based on actors’ similarity/dissimilarity, that are External and Internal and Specialization Indexes. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Our findings quantify differential contributions of strong versus weak ties to resilience strategies associated with innovation networks among different types of small-scale maize farmers. They demonstrate how differences among five farm types regarding farm resources access, maize production systems and farmers’ social attributes influence their innovation networks. A gradient exists between farm types in their innovation network indexes regarding the contribution of strong versus weak ties. Commercial farmers, as the winners of the modernization process, have better access to resources and establish a wider variety of relationships with weak ties. However, interactions with other farmers are essential for technology adoption. In contrast, weak ties represented by institutions have a minor participation in innovation networks of diversified income and subsistence farm units. Strong ties dominate these farm types producing maize for consumption as part of their persistence strategies. Low-mechanized and elder family farm types, affected by geographic remoteness and population ageing processes, represent intermediate points in the gradient of farm resources and network indexes. SIGNIFICANCE: Jointly farm typology and social network approaches open new avenues to enhance farming system resilience. These approaches show how farmers establish their social interactions for innovation, creating specific combinations of strong and weak ties that are farm type specific. Diverse resilience strategies appear from these combinations involving not only adaptation but also persistence strategies that require further exploration.