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Moral Economy of Sharecropping: The Case of Malo Farmers in Southwestern Ethiopia
Sharecropping, a form of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on the land by the tenant, is practiced in many regions of the world. This study discusses a sharecropping practice (kottse) among the Malo in southwestern Ethiopia. Nearly all (95.2%) farmers sampled in 2016 engaged in kottse. The number of kottse partners varied from 1 to 6 (ave. 2.38). Interestingly, nearly half (42.9%) farmers practiced kottse by providing their land to a partner while at the same time farming on land provided by other partner(s). Sharecropping among the Malo is practiced not between landowners and tenants but rather among smallholders. They cultivate cereal crops in outlying fields, while they grow various crops such as root crops in their homegardens. Over half of the cereal fields are farmed under kottse, while the crop plantings in the gardens are rarely managed by means of kottse. Kottse undertaken in the cereal fields is mostly organized on an annual basis among different non-relatives, whereas in the root-crop plantings kottse tends to be managed perennially among close relatives. This difference may be derived from the fact that cereal fields are harvested once and half of the harvest is sold at markets, whereas most of the root crops are harvested little by little and consumed domestically. This study shows that the sharecropping practice among the Malo is embedded and interwoven into the social relationships and food economy of the local society.