Nelly Bassily | October 26, 2009
Shaded from the sun, farmers gather for a special kind of market. They lay out mats and brightly coloured fabrics to display their goods. But today they are not selling heaps of fresh crops. Instead, they display smaller quantities of dried seeds and cuttings. The farmers are participating in a seed fair in the province of Nampula in northeastern Mozambique. Rather than leaving with money in their pockets, they will take home locally-adapted seed varieties and knowledge of how to grow them.
Ana Leite participated in a fair for the first time this year. She took home three new seed varieties. One was a light-skinned cassava. This variety was much sought after because it is not bitter and can be eaten raw. Ms. Leite also purchased a cutting for a kind of sugarcane she had never seen before. The farmer who sold the sugarcane explained how to cultivate it.
Seed fairs expand on a traditional farmer practice. It’s common for neighbouring farmers to exchange seed varieties. At a seed fair, the exchange happens on a larger scale. Seeds and cuttings are sold at a nominal price – much less than they sell for in shops.
In 2002, the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives in Nampula organized its first seed fair in the province. The union noticed that local people were turning away from local crops such as cassava, sweet potato, sorghum, and millet. They wanted to provide farmers with an opportunity to exchange locally-adapted seeds, as well as knowledge of growing methods. For example, a farmer may find varieties that are known to mature quickly or resist common pests. They may find crops that are suitable to the soil and water conditions on their farm.
Over the years, the seed fair has become very popular and the farmers’ union has grown. Now, the union organizes five fairs at the same time in different parts of the province. Over 700 members of the farmers’ union participated in the latest fairs.
Margarita Amisse took part in her third seed fair this year. She brought groundnuts to the market and returned with sesame, cowpea, and rice. She also purchased some maize seeds for her neighbour. Ms. Amisse confirms that seeds at the fair are less expensive and available in much greater variety than those sold in shops.