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Farm Radio Weekly is a news and information service for rural radio broadcasters in sub-Saharan Africa. It is published by Farm Radio International.

Farm Radio Weekly

Notes to broadcasters on seeds

The farmer in this week’s story says that seeds are the pillar of her family. Seeds bind families together and provide continuity and security. Seeds are the first link in the food chain, and therefore in community and household food security. The quality, the accessibility and the variety of seed to be planted are vital elements which help determine the success of a farmer’s crop.

Some commentators believe genetically modified organisms provide an answer. For others, conventionally-bred high-yielding seeds and planting materials are the best solution. But with factors such as climate change, many believe that research efforts, investment and value need to be devoted to locally-developed seed materials, local crop diversity, and the knowledge that accompanies it.

Most small-scale African farmers rely on their own seed, especially for non-staple crops. In some African countries, it is estimated that only 5% of farmers purchase seed produced by formal institutions. But for crops such as maize, up to 80% buy hybrid seed. These figures hint at the potential market for seed companies. Seed companies regularly patent crop varieties, and promote their seed in rural areas, aiming to increase the percentage of bought seed which is planted by farmers. International seed companies are increasingly involved in the African seed industry.

Here is some general background reading on seed systems in Africa:

Understanding Seed Systems Used by Small Farmers in Africa: Focus on Markets.  http://webapp.ciat.cgiar.org/africa/pdf/seed_pb6.pdf

Seed systems: Off to a good start. http://spore.cta.int/index.php?option=com_content&task=view=en&id=1130&catid=9

Website of SeedMap.org: http://www.seedmap.org/

The website of The African Seed Trade Association: http://afsta.org/

“Peasant seeds, the foundation of food sovereignty in Africa.” Booklet downloadable in French and English: http://pubs.iied.org/14565IIED.html

A number of international organizations campaign around seed and food sovereignty issues:

In February and March 2011, Farm Radio Weekly ran a series on seed sovereignty, which included original stories from Burkina Faso, South Africa and Zambia. Browse issues FRW 146, 148 and 149: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/03/

Farm Radio International has produced a number of scripts related to seeds:
-Two women rice farmers discuss their best seed saving practices. Package 85, Script 5, September 2008. http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/85-5script_en.asp
-Starting a community seed bank. Package 56, Script 6, July 2000.

-Collecting seeds for a community seed bank. Package 56, Script 7, July 2000.
-Save your Own Seeds, Part One: Seed Selection. Package 42, Script 1, October 1996. http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/42-1script_en.asp
-Save your Own Seeds, Part Two: Seed Storage. Package 42, Script 2, October 1996. http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/42-2script_en.asp

We hope you are inspired to produce your own programs on seeds and seed ownership. Because it is such a broad topic, you may want to choose one specific angle and invite people to discuss opposing sides in a debate. Here are some questions as a start:

-What traditional seed varieties do you use on your farm?
-How did you obtain these seeds?
-How do these seeds help ensure your family’s food security?
-What made farmers decide to try improved seed varieties? Were they struggling with a pest or disease? Did they hope to achieve higher yields?
-How do farmers in your area obtain improved seeds? Is it difficult to reach sellers? Are the improved seeds more expensive than traditional seeds?
-How did they decide which seed variety was best for their farm? Did they carry out field tests, consult local extension officers, etc.?
-What was the result of using improved varieties in terms of yield, percentage of loss, return relative to cost of seed and other inputs, etc.?
-Did the farmers experience any unexpected problems with the improved seeds? What did they do to ensure family food security while trying the improved seeds?

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