Like many prudent farmers, Bontu Haji Hussein wants to grow different crops and varieties each season so that if one of them fails, she can rely on the others for food and income to support her children. Small-scale farmers like Mrs. Bontu also depend on crop diversity to deal with environmental challenges such as climate change.
But Mrs. Bontu sometimes can’t find seeds that can cope with changing weather conditions, and that grow and produce well without chemical inputs.
Mrs. Bontu lives with her four children in Adere village in Ethiopia’s Oromia Region. She says it has been many years since farmers in her area kept the indigenous seeds that were used by previous generations. She adds, “It’s so sad. We should have kept them with us.”
For more than a decade, a local non-governmental organization called Ethio-Organic Seed Action, or EOSA, has been working with Mrs. Bontu and other farmers in the area to restore the diversity of indigenous crops.
Mrs. Bontu says that, with support from EOSA, farmers have established local seed banks to help restore local seeds. Farmers are currently using a number of indigenous crop varieties.
She says farmers in her area multiplied some seed samples this year and plan to grow those crops in the coming years.
Sisay Beyene is another farmer from Adere village who is working to restore local seeds that were lost years ago.
He says: “We are witnessing the slow diminishing of local possessions such as local seeds of various crops. This makes me frustrated, as these seeds existed through transfer from one generation to another.”
Mr. Beyene says there is a great need to keep these indigenous seeds and pass them on to the next generation. He adds, “Having local seeds … means a lot for me and my family. Our fathers and forefathers grew these seeds. It’s part of our identity as a community.”
Bedilu Tafesse is a crop production expert at EOSA. He says the NGO is encouraging small-scale farmers to produce and distribute local seeds, and to diversify the crops and varieties they grow. He says this will help them provide for their families.
Mr. Bedilu explains: “We support farmers to revive and preserve the local seeds that have existed for so many years. This conserves the social, cultural, economic, environmental, and other values of the resources.”
He says that, when farmers have the opportunity, they are the best seed breeders. He adds, “We provide farmers with access to both farmers’ [varieties] and formal varieties in the quantities they require, in time for planting, and at a cost they can afford.”
Through EOSA, farmers have been growing different local varieties and then choosing the ones that work best for them. They have also learned how to pollinate crops such as maize. Mr. Bedilu says these activities have helped to maintain and improve farmers’ varieties that are adapted to local growing conditions.
Local seed varieties have many advantages. Mrs. Bontu says she prefers to use indigenous varieties to prepare traditional dishes because they are tasty, nutritious, and healthy. She explains, “Since they have been grown without chemicals and inorganic fertilizers, we use them for food for our families.”
She says she can now prepare a greater variety of dishes for her family. She adds that the seed project has helped to create a sense of teamwork among women in the village.
Mr. Beyene says many indigenous seeds are also better at resisting diseases and coping with varying weather conditions. He adds, “Our yields have increased and our life has been improving.”
This story was prepared with the support of The McLean Foundation.
FRI would also like to thank USC and its local partner, EOSA, for its support in preparing this story.