Nelly Bassily | July 12, 2010
Aid agencies commonly distribute seeds and tools as a way for communities to recover from poor harvests. The current famine in Niger and the rest of the Sahel has prompted a number of calls for extra aid money, for food aid and for cash transfers. Preparing for and responding to such humanitarian emergencies is a complex operation. Some agencies prefer cash transfers. Some focus on dealing with malnutrition, while others hand out improved seeds. Each intervention brings some relief, but it is often short term. Many interventions do not plan for the long term. International agencies often disagree on the best way forward.
With regard to seeds, concerns are often raised about introducing improved or hybrid seeds. Many believe they are the best way to ensure a good yield. Yet some development organizations prefer to support traditional seeds and crops. They promote methods for sharing and preserving varieties which they believe are more reliable in local conditions.
For more information and for opinions on the current crisis, refer to these websites and pages:
http://www.caritas.org/activities/emergencies/WestAfricaFoodCrisis.html (in English)
http://www.caritas.org/fractivities/emergencies/WestAfricaFoodCrisis.html (in French)
Here are some previous FRW stories about seed, seed varieties and seed banks:
-“Farmers test best millet varieties for dry conditions” (Issue #6, January 2008)
-“Women traders play crucial role in providing locally adapted seeds” (Issue #9, February 2008)
-“Seed banks are the answer to chronic seed shortages” (Issue #80, September 2009)
-“Improved seeds improve livelihoods for women’s group” (Issue #27, July 2008).
Farm Radio International has produced some relevant scripts on local seed supplies:
-“Rebuilding Local Seed Supplies After Armed Conflict or Other Emergency Situations” (Package 67, Script 1, June 2003)
-“Save your Own Seeds, Part One: Seed Selection” (Package 42, Script 1
-“Save your Own Seeds, Part Two: Seed Storage” (Package 42, Script 2
Access to quality seed is an issue in many regions. Debates on the use of improved and traditional seeds are often heated. You could engage farmers or farmers’ organizations in such debates. Here are some suggested questions:
-Is improved seed affordable? Can you save the seeds after harvesting crops grown from improved seed?
-Does improved seed always gives a good yield? How does it compare to local varieties?
-What other factors do you consider when deciding which seed to use? Who in the family decides which seed to plant?