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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.

Issue #146

Dear subscribers,

We welcome our new subscribers this week: Koulete Atassé from Radio Azur Anié in Togo; Samuel Senkunda from a meteorology agency in Uganda; Alioune Badara Diagne from ADEFA in Sénégal; Abdul Ibrahim from Media Trust in Nigeria et Oscar Dolo from Modia Drama Club in Liberia.

This week, we are launching a three-week-long series of stories on seed ownership. The series takes an in-depth look at some of the issues farmers face concerning ownership, access to and use of seeds. Farm Radio Weekly asked writers across Africa to talk to farmers about how they ensure their seed supply, how they select and store seed, and how they choose which varieties to plant. We are pleased to present a variety of farmer and community experiences, in which people tell their own stories. The stories profile community seed banks, highlight the value of traditional storage methods, and present farmers’ opinions comparing the value of hybrid and local seeds. We hope you find the series interesting, enlightening and inspiring.

We start our series this week with stories from South Africa and Burkina Faso. A community in South Africa tells us how they established a seed bank, building on local seed-saving traditions. The community is particularly interested in traditional crops. In our second story, farmers in Burkina Faso describe how and why they take care to preserve traditional sorghum seeds.

In other news this week, we look at how cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire are affected by the recent ban on cocoa exports. You can find links to further updates at the bottom of the news item.

Many greetings,

-The Farm Radio Weekly team

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South Africa: Traditional seeds help Sekhukhune District fight hunger (by Fidelis Zvomuya, for Farm Radio Weekly in South Africa)

Lindiwe Zono is a member of the Phadima Agricultural Association in the Sekhukhune District of Limpopo province, in northwestern South Africa. The association has started a seed bank to preserve and increase their supply of traditional food plants.

Sekhukhune is a poor district, bordering Zimbabwe to the north and Botswana to the north-west. It is dependent on agriculture. The effects of climate change have been felt in recent years. Farmers have had to cope with droughts, floods, soil degradation and water sources clogged with silt.

Mrs. Zono says that seed saving was once an almost sacred duty among the Pedi, the largest ethnic group in the province. The seed bank builds on this tradition. It aims to make use of and promote traditional crops such as sorghum, millet, cowpeas, maize, and pumpkin. It began in 2000 and covers seven villages.

Mrs. Zono explains: “By setting up a seed bank, we aim to pool resources together so that we can increase [our] stock of traditional food seed varieties that are environment-friendly, [and] do not need expensive fertilizers or pesticides to flourish.”

The members of the association farm organically. They plant crops that withstand drought. The farmers use hoes and cattle-drawn ploughs to prepare their fields. Project members trade seeds with each other to find varieties that they wish to plant on their farms. They share knowledge and note their crops’ performance. Mrs. Zono adds, “We identify the crops and document some of the information and their growth on our own.”

Farmers in this district do plant hybrid seeds. But those who plant traditional maize varieties are now reaping the benefits, while those who opt for hybrids are counting their losses.

Clarice Madonsela is another association member. She says that the association encourages farmers to identify healthy crops in the field and mark them for seed. The marked crops are then harvested and stored separately from grains meant for food. She says, “Our traditional kitchen is the best storage place for seed grains because we use firewood for cooking. The smoke produced by the fire, and the slightly higher temperatures in the kitchen, helps to dry and preserve seeds.”

Mrs. Madonsela says that they are now food secure. She believes that this is a result of secure access to seeds through the use of traditional storage and planting methods.

Mrs. Zono calls on government and research institutions to assist the farmers by introducing innovative ways to preserve seeds. She explains; “We fear that the effects of climate change, floods, drought and burning of crops may ultimately make particular seed varieties become extinct, rendering farmers seedless, if we do not act swiftly.”

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Cote d’Ivoire: Cocoa farmers suffer from export ban (IPS, IRIN, BBC, RFI, Afrik News, Wall Street Journal)

Cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire are bearing the brunt of a ban on the export of cocoa beans. On January 23 this year, Alassane Ouattara called for a month-long ban on cocoa and coffee exports. His aim is to starve Laurent Gbagbo of the funds that are keeping him in power.

In the presidential elections in late 2010, Alassane Ouattara was proclaimed the winner. But incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo is refusing to leave office.

The European Union, along with the United Nations and the African Union, recognizes Alassane Ouattara as the rightful winner. The EU has imposed financial sanctions on institutions seen as backing Mr. Gbagbo in an effort to force him to leave office. EU-registered vessels are barred from docking at the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro. Multi-national companies have suspended cocoa purchases.

Blaise Ouraga is a farmer from the cocoa belt of San Pedro. He says, “Growing conditions this year have been ideal for a good harvest.” But, he adds, the cost of transport and food has risen in the last couple of months. According to Mr. Ouraga, “A ban is the latest headache.”

At first, many farmers supported the ban. Maurice Savadogo is a cocoa farmer in the eastern town of Abengourou. He says, “The majority of us are smallholders from the north or centre of the country. These are the people who feel the ban is all part of the process of a revolution.”

But other farmers are protesting the ban. A number of farmers burned a dozen bags of cocoa outside the EU offices in Abidjan. They are asking the EU to lift the ban, arguing that the post-election crisis is not the fault of the growers. Blandine Gloudoueu is a cocoa producer from Duékoué, a city in the west part of the country. She attended the protest. She asks, “I am just a simple producer … what do I have to do with this policy?”

Coffee and cocoa generate about 40 percent of the country’s export earnings. There are about 900,000 cocoa growers in the country, and an estimated six million Ivoirians rely on cocoa production to survive.
Farmers are already having problems financing and storing the next crop, due to be harvested between April and May. Warehouses are overflowing with unexported supplies. Local and international banks are no longer trading or financing cocoa purchases.

Some growers say they will seek new buyers in China or Russia. Others feel they must sell for half the price recommended by the coffee and cocoa board. Fulgence N’Guessan is president of the Union of Cooperatives of Côte d’Ivoire. He explains, “Farmers don’t have the conditions to keep beans for more than about three weeks. Some prefer to sell at a low price rather than risk not being able to sell mouldy beans at all later.”

Other farmers are threatening to burn their cocoa. Zabi Youan is a grower from Vavoua. He warns, “I will burn my produce. Because I can’t fathom selling my produce for paltry sums, considering all the hard work I put into it.”

Whatever happens, cocoa beans are likely to find a way out of the country. Traders and analysts believe that cocoa will cross into the neighbouring countries of Ghana, Liberia and, through Burkina Faso, into Togo. Kona Haque is an agricultural commodities analyst in London. She predicts, “We are going to see a big jump in smuggling.”

Mr. Savadogo, the cocoa farmer supporting the ban, says, “… if the ban is extended until March, things will be enormously difficult for us. At the end of the day we are just planters; we feel very vulnerable.”

Cocoa prices are rising sharply. As it becomes more difficult to get the beans out of Cote d’Ivoire, traders are paying premium prices. This week Ouattara announced an extension of the export ban until March 10. Following the announcement, cocoa prices reached their highest level in 32 years. Many predict a social and economic disaster if the ban and the political crisis continue.

Here is some further reading on this issue:

Cocoa Prices Jump As Ivory Coast Extends Export Ban: http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20110222-713079.html

Ouattara to extend Ivorian cocoa ban: spokesman: http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE71L0FE20110222?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews
Briefing on the humanitarian situation: http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=91922

Updates will appear on news services as the situation changes. Please check on:

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Notes to broadcasters on seed ownership

Seeds are essential in farming systems. They provide and symbolize 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. These are the reasons seeds are a contentious issue and often in the news these days.

With the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, there is concern about how to feed the world population. Seeds will continue to be a vital component in plans to ensure food security. Some commentators believe genetically modified organisms provide an answer. For others, conventionally-bred high-yielding seeds and planting materials are needed. 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.

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 improved seed. Many farmers rely on their own seed, especially for non-staple crops. These figures also 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. For example, a US company called Pioneer Hi-Bred recently bought a South African seed company in an effort to expand its reach into African maize production: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/62638/20100915/dupont-unit-pioneer-buying-s-africa-seed-company.htm.

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



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

Improved or local seed?

For thousands of years, farmers have relied on their own harvests − selecting seeds, storing them, and planting them the following season. By choosing seeds and other planting materials that meet the needs of their particular farming conditions, they have, over time, developed local varieties and breeds which are suited to their context and preferences. This diversity of crops and varieties is a common good on which farmers still rely. Many farmers and development organizations believe that these traditional varieties are more consistently reliable than improved varieties.

But farmers move with the times and are always experimenting. Many farmers find hybrid seed, especially maize seed, gives good yields. They see improved varieties as one way to increase yields and food security. But there are risks associated with improved seeds. Farmers can become dependant on seed companies, relying on them to produce the seed they prefer. If for some reason those commercial varieties are not available, farmers are dependent on whatever varieties traders, seed companies or research institutions have available, and are promoting. Improved seed often requires higher levels of farm inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, as well as higher levels of moisture. This means increased costs for farmers, and also increased profits for companies. It is a complicated picture. Farmers can benefit by trying new varieties, but, if they choose improved varieties, they rely on the seed arriving at the local store in time. They need supply chains which deliver seed and inputs on time, an open seed market (rather than a monopoly), and breeding systems which take farmers’ requirements into consideration. Also, consistent use of purchased seed can lead to a gradual loss of traditional varieties. This reduces the potential for farmers and crops to respond to changing agro-climatic and social conditions, making them more vulnerable to unexpected changes and events. Each farmer’s situation is different; she or he must take many factors into account when choosing the right combination of crops and varieties to plant.

Further stories on local efforts to preserve seed:
Preserving indigenous varieties in Uganda: http://allafrica.com/stories/201006070596.html
Seed banks in Uganda: http://allafrica.com/stories/201006070598.html
Is seed recuperation possible? Kenya: http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/67531
Listen to a radio piece about seed diversity in Ethiopia: http://www.greenplanetmonitor.net/news/2010/03/ethiopian-seed-diversity/

Access to seed

Traditional seeds have often been passed down through generations. In some countries, it is common for a mother to give seeds to a new daughter-in-law to welcome her to the new household. Communities have devised their own informal seed exchange systems. Community seed banks are becoming more common, as are seed fairs.

For more information:

Seed fairs:

Seed banks:



Many international NGOs, research institutions, and other organizations work on a variety of seed projects in Africa. Here are a few:

An article which discusses the new Harmonised Seed Security Project (HaSSP) in southern Africa, which aims to speed movement of hybrid seed between countries: http://africa.ipsterraviva.net/2010/09/01/growing-seed-security/
Pan-African Bean Research Alliance http://www.pabra.org/
USC Canada’s Seeds of Survival program http://usc-canada.org/what-we-do/seed-security-and-diversity/

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

Here are two African organizations working on seed issues:
The African Seed Trade Association http://www.afsta.org/objectives.asp
The new Malawi Seed Alliance aims at improving seed quality: http://casipblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/ip-issues-in-the-launch-of-masa-%E2%80%93-the-malawi-seed-alliance/

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:

Using and managing traditional seeds:
-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?
-Is there a community seed bank in your region? Which crops and varieties are stored in the bank?

Improved seed varieties:
-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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Knight International Journalism Awards

Knight International is seeking candidates for its Knight International Journalism Awards 2011.

Each year, the awards honour two outstanding journalists who have made a significant difference in the lives of people in their countries. Nominees can be reporters, editors, media managers, citizen journalists or bloggers. The deadline for nominations is March 15, 2011.

Award winners will be honoured at the International Center for Journalists’ Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C., on November 1, 2011. Each winner will receive a US $3,000 cash prize and a crystal trophy.

For more information, and to nominate a candidate, visit: http://knight.icfj.org/Awards/KnightAwardsOverview/tabid/81/Default.aspx

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Remembering Asuo Dzigbordi from Ghana

In January, we received a message from a colleague in Ghana, informing us of the sudden death of Asuo Dzigbordi of Volta Star Radio. Mr. Asuo served farmers in his home region of Ho, Ghana. He started out as an agricultural extension officer, and became involved in radio campaigns with Farm Radio International’s activities in Ghana. We described some of his activities last year in Farm Radio Weekly http://weekly.farmradio.org/2010/06/21/radio-campaign-on-nerica-in-ghana/

Mr. Asuo made a short video, in which he talks about how he became involved in farm radio: http://blog.farmradio.org/2010/05/from-extension-officer-to-farm-radio-broadcaster/

Doug Ward, President of the Board of Directors of Farm Radio International, said, “He will be remembered as a pioneer in the movement to serve smallholders better through the synergy of extension and radio. May he rest in peace, and be remembered for [an] important life.”

Mr. Asuo will be buried on March 26th 2011 at Tsito in the Volta Region. We hope the spirit that he brought to all of his work will live on in the people he has inspired. Our deepest condolences to his family and to his colleagues at Volta Star Radio in Ghana.

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Two women rice farmers discuss their best seed saving practices

Preserving seeds to plant the following season is a key activity for farmers. Farmers have invented many methods to ensure that stored grain does not go mouldy or become infested with pests. Different crops are stored in different ways. Some, like maize, are hung in the kitchen smoke; others are treated with ashes and stored in a large granary. In our script of the week, two women farmers from Bangladesh discuss how they store rice. In this script, we learn how useful a candle can be for storing seeds safely!


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