Burkina Faso: Farmers find ancient seed selection practices still relevant (by Adama Zongo, for Farm Radio Weekly in Burkina Faso)

| February 28, 2011

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Hadarou Déné farms in Tanama V2, a village about one hundred and forty kilometres from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Mr. Déné grows maize, sorghum and cotton. For the last five years, the local agricultural extension service has offered improved seed varieties.  Mr. Déné says, “We receive improved maize and cotton seed from the county department of agriculture. We have seen good yields with these seeds.”

Seeds are a central concern for farmers. They represent farmers’ hopes for full granaries, for the next planting season, and for food security.  As Mr. Déné says, “Where will we be tomorrow? What use are our granaries if we have no seeds?”

But the extension service does not distribute sorghum seeds. Like other farmers in the village, Mr. Déné saves and plants local sorghum seeds. He says, “The sorghum seeds are the ones passed on from our parents. Each year, we use these seeds.” Mr. Déné carefully selects these local seeds at harvest time. Smiling, he explains, “Before harvesting sorghum, I go through my field and I choose the big ears that are ripe and dry. I cut them very carefully to avoid losing the grain.”

Every year, Mr. Déné stores his seeds in the granary. He says, “I keep them carefully in the granary, above the grain which we use as food.” Mr. Déné is aware that pests can attack the granary, but he believes they cannot reach the stored seeds. The granary is not treated, nor does it use any type of protection from pest attack. But Mr. Déné is quite confident. He says, “It is true that we do not use any treatments or protection measures. Pests could get in, but they only destroy a small amount of grain.”

Salfo Dabré is another farmer from the same village. After harvest, he selects the best ears of sorghum. He is careful to choose sorghum which is free of contamination. He ties the ears of sorghum together and hangs them in a tree in the middle of his yard. He has done this for years and never worries about losing the seed he has so carefully selected. With confidence, he says, “I do this to keep my seeds. They have never been destroyed by weevils or other pests. My parents did this. Today, I do the same as they did.”

Like Mr. Déné, Mr. Dabré stores his crops in granaries. But Mr. Dabré says that building a granary is a lot of work. He explains, “It takes wood, water, clay bricks, straw and all sorts of other materials to build a granary. It is a lot of materials to assemble!”

The farmers in Tanama V2 continue to plant local sorghum varieties. Their selection and storage methods are traditional, tried and tested, and they work. These ancient practices continue to provide villagers with a secure supply of seeds.