Mali: Farmers benefit from program to recover traditional seeds

August 13, 2018
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It’s 10 o’clock in the morning and the sounds of chickens and other small animals fill the courtyard of an NGO in Safo, a rural district on the outskirts of Bamako, the capital of Mali. Amadou Diarra is sitting at the end of a long wooden bench.

It’s here that Mr. Diarra learned about agrobiodiversity—and the importance of saving good quality seeds.

Mr. Diarra is a farmer from the village of Zorokoro in the district of Safo, and the chairperson of the Dun kafa co-operative. “Dun kafa” means “eat your fill” in the Bambara language. The farmer co-operative was established with the support of the NGO, CAB Dèmèso, and Mr. Diarra coordinates the co-op’s activities.

Farmers in Safo are working with CAB Dèmèso and USC Canada to preserve agricultural biodiversity and improve their livelihoods. One key to this is seed security, including setting up a gene—or seed—bank.

Mr. Diarra says CAB Dèmèso’s agrobiodiversity program made remarkable progress in Safo district, including improving the quantity and quality of production. He says good seeds and organic fertilizers were the main reasons for these improvements.

Mr. Diarra says: “Before the arrival of the program, we had difficulty getting good seeds. Traditional seeds were almost abandoned in favour of imported seeds…. So the project supported and promoted our own seeds, which are generally better adapted to the local climate than imported varieties.”

Through the CAB Dèmèso agrobiodiversity program, farmers came together to select good seed varieties to save. During the program, each farmer shared how they select their seeds, and then together the farmers chose a single method of selecting seeds that worked well for all of them. They started with a good variety. At harvest time, they sorted the best seeds or cuttings of that variety and kept them for the following year.

Abdou Bomba is the program leader for CAB Dèmèso’s agrobiodiversity program. Mr. Bomba says the program promotes participatory selection of varieties in communities. He explains: “Participatory varietal selection is a process that helps farmers try out and select new cereal and market garden varieties to introduce to their production systems. They select these varieties based on their own needs and preferences.”

He says that the process includes five steps.

First, farmers express their preference for varieties based on their own criteria—for example, resistance to insects, birds, drought, and diseases.

Second, CAB Dèmèso, with the support of national research centres, gives seeds with these qualities to farmers.

Next, farmers grow the seeds in their fields near a local variety that performs well. Farmers use their own methods of sowing, weeding, and fertilization, etc.

Fourth, when the plants mature, farmers evaluate the performance of each variety, based on specific criteria.

Finally, there is a culinary evaluation. Farmers make one type of dish with each variety and taste it. After these steps, farmers choose the varieties that best match their preferences.
Throughout the process, NGOs and scientists support the farmers to collect and analyze information. But the farmers make all the decisions.

Sitan Diarra is a member of the Dun kafa co-op, and also a member of the committee in charge of managing the community gene or seed bank. One of the committee’s tasks is to conserve seeds in the bank in order to supply farmers with seeds at the beginning of the rainy season. Mrs. Diarra says there are many varieties, but that she prefers to focus on traditional local seeds in order to prevent them from disappearing from the area. These are mainly varieties of groundnuts, maize, sorghum, cowpea, and wandzou (Bambara groundnut).

Mrs. Diarra says there are more women than men in the co-operatives, and that women play an important role. They participate actively in the program because it allows them to earn money for themselves. Through the program, the women have learned about seed production, nursery maintenance, and techniques for producing onion, pepper, and zucchini seeds.

She adds, “Previously, there was no interaction between women and men. But as part of this program, we share ideas and we discuss our activities.”

Now, farmers like Mrs. Diarra can easily get seeds from the community seed bank that germinate well and yield well in their area.

This story was prepared with the support of The McLean Foundation.
FRI would also like to thank USC and its local partner, CAB Dèmèso, for its support in preparing this story.

Photo from the archives