Some 20 years ago, a handful of women from Iganga District, in eastern Uganda, came together to improve their livelihoods. The group began with modest goals. They trained to grow vegetables and produce handicrafts. They also produced dramas aimed at improving the lives of other rural women. But it took a major challenge to launch the group on the path towards its greatest success.
Throughout the 1990s, members of the Bakusekamajja Women’s Development Farmers’ Association found improved seeds hard to come by. Improved seeds were too expensive and difficult to access.
Grace Bakaira is chairperson of the association. She said the traditional seeds that they used produced low yields. They were also more susceptible to pests and disease. In 1996, the women’s maize crops were hit by streak virus. It was then that the group started working with the National Crop Research Institute to use and reproduce improved seeds.
The association now boasts 450 members and supplies maize and rice seeds to several seed companies and NGOs. Its success in seed production is due to strict quality standards and cooperative work.
Individual members of the association grow seeds in their own fields, under the guidance of a site selection committee. In order to maintain the purity of the seed variety, production plots must be separated in distance or time from other varieties. This ensures that pollen from other varieties doesn’t reach the improved seed crops. Fields are monitored by association executives throughout the season.
When it comes time for harvest, work is done communally. Most members keep some rice or maize for their families, and sell the rest to the association. Seeds are taken to the head office for drying, shelling, and processing.
Edith Basele is secretary of the association. She explains that, by selling maize and rice seeds in bulk, the association saves on costs such as transportation and increases profit margins. Last year, the association produced 560 metric tonnes of maize seed, which sold for almost 200 million Ugandan shillings (about 120,000 American dollars or 80,000 Euros).
By assisting women to produce their own food with higher-yielding varieties and earn money selling seeds, the Bakusekamajja Women’s Development Farmers’ Association has reached its goal of improving rural women’s lives. But the benefits extend beyond members of the association. It has also made improved seeds available to more farmers in the area. And while association members enjoy good profits, their seeds still sell for 20 to 40 per cent less than other improved seeds.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on improved seeds