South Africa: Traditional seeds help Sekhukhune District fight hunger (by Fidelis Zvomuya, for Farm Radio Weekly in South Africa)
Lindiwe Zono is a member of the Phadima Agricultural Association in the Sekhukhune District of Limpopo province, in northwestern South Africa. The association has started a seed bank to preserve and increase their supply of traditional food plants.
Sekhukhune is a poor district, bordering Zimbabwe to the north and Botswana to the north-west. It is dependent on agriculture. The effects of climate change have been felt in recent years. Farmers have had to cope with droughts, floods, soil degradation and water sources clogged with silt.
Mrs. Zono says that seed saving was once an almost sacred duty among the Pedi, the largest ethnic group in the province. The seed bank builds on this tradition. It aims to make use of and promote traditional crops such as sorghum, millet, cowpeas, maize, and pumpkin. It began in 2000 and covers seven villages.
Mrs. Zono explains: “By setting up a seed bank, we aim to pool resources together so that we can increase [our] stock of traditional food seed varieties that are environment-friendly, [and] do not need expensive fertilizers or pesticides to flourish.”
The members of the association farm organically. They plant crops that withstand drought. The farmers use hoes and cattle-drawn ploughs to prepare their fields. Project members trade seeds with each other to find varieties that they wish to plant on their farms. They share knowledge and note their crops’ performance. Mrs. Zono adds, “We identify the crops and document some of the information and their growth on our own.”
Farmers in this district do plant hybrid seeds. But those who plant traditional maize varieties are now reaping the benefits, while those who opt for hybrids are counting their losses.
Clarice Madonsela is another association member. She says that the association encourages farmers to identify healthy crops in the field and mark them for seed. The marked crops are then harvested and stored separately from grains meant for food. She says, “Our traditional kitchen is the best storage place for seed grains because we use firewood for cooking. The smoke produced by the fire, and the slightly higher temperatures in the kitchen, helps to dry and preserve seeds.”
Mrs. Madonsela says that they are now food secure. She believes that this is a result of secure access to seeds through the use of traditional storage and planting methods.
Mrs. Zono calls on government and research institutions to assist the farmers by introducing innovative ways to preserve seeds. She explains; “We fear that the effects of climate change, floods, drought and burning of crops may ultimately make particular seed varieties become extinct, rendering farmers seedless, if we do not act swiftly.”