Date Posted: October 26th, 2009
As our news story points out, seed fairs expand on the common and traditional practice of farmers exchanging seeds with neighbours. Over the past several years there has been growing interest in seed fairs in many African countries. One reason for this growing interest is that seed fairs are seen as a way to preserve the diversity of locally-adapted plant materials and promote farmer control of the seed supply. This addresses concerns that large companies are taking control of genetic resources and encouraging a monoculture approach to agriculture.
Our news story from Mozambique was taken from the latest issue of LEISA magazine, a publication dedicated to promoting “Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture.” LEISA also published the following guide to organizing a seed fair, which you may wish to share with your listening community:
How to organize a seed fair
1- Organize the fairs regularly, and avoid the busy time of the growing season. The Nampula fairs are annual and take place about two months before the rainy season.
2- Start with a central fair, but later increase the number of fairs to cover different regions, thus allowing increased participation.
3- Let the regions (i.e. regional organizations) be responsible for organizing their own fair, to allow local farmer leaders to gain experience in organizing activities. In the Nampula case, representatives were selected for the different regions, as well as an organizational committee composed of leaders from each area.
4- When organizing simultaneous events as UG CAN did, keep the logistics manageable. The five seed fairs catered to members within a 180 km distance from the UG CAN headquarters in Nampula.
5- Move the location of the fairs within the regions every year.
6- State clearly in the invitations that an equal number of women and men are expected to represent each area at every fair.
7- Also explain in the invitations that diversity and a good quantity of seeds are important, as is information about the seeds (when to plant, preferred type of soil, water needs, etc.).
8- Add some local cultural interest: for the Nampula fairs, local authorities were invited, as well as a drum and dance group. UG CAN members were also asked to prepare songs or a play that highlights the importance of seed.
9- Provide money to the organizational committees, which can also be used for food for the participants and guests. At the end of the fair, a breakdown of the costs should be presented to the participants.
10- Ensure that the seed be exchanged or otherwise sold at a symbolic price (i.e. a nominal or very low price) to keep it accessible to the farmers.
11- Keep out commercial seed companies (authorities inevitably suggest inviting representatives of seed companies, which of course completely negates the idea of the fairs).
12- Award prizes at the end of the fair to the areas that managed to attract the most seeds in terms of diversity and quantity.
13- Afterwards, evaluate the fairs to evaluate possible adaptations for the following year.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics have also published guides to organizing community seed fairs, as follows:
-Community diversity seed fairs in Tanzania: Guidelines for seed fairs: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/009/ag387e/ag387e00.pdf
-Organizing seed fairs in emergency situations: http://www.icrisat.org/uploads/presentations/18062003163009Organizing%20Seed%20Fairs.pdf