posted by: RAINS on June 7, 2019

The ‘One World – No Hunger’ (Sewoh) project empowers farmers to play their part in creating a safe, nutritious, and reliable source of food for their communities. With our partner organizations, the African Biodiversity Network, and Brot für die Welt, Sewoh aims to give a voice to farmers at a grassroots level. Farmers from five participating communities in the Savelugu Municipality came together for a forum on indigenous seeds in mid-April of this year. They discussed both the benefits and drawbacks of indigenous seeds, improved seed varieties, and agro-ecological practices.

Through those discussions, farmers created a resolution to reflect the benefits they identified for indigenous seeds and their preference to rely on the use of those local seeds and agro-ecological farming practices. Participants noted that in their experience, indigenous seeds tended to be more adaptable to the varied conditions of local soil, more cost-effective because selected seeds are re-used year after year, supportive to the dietary needs of the community, and to have much lower risk when used as food for people and livestock.

In addition, indigenous seeds have a great deal of social and cultural importance in rural Ghanaian communities, as spiritual, cultural, and medicinal knowledge about the use of various seeds has been passed down for generations. Some of these practices include adding millet flour to the diet of a new mother shortly after delivery in order to keep mother and baby healthy; or the practice of giving yams as a sign of gratitude. These practices are unique and important to the communities where they originate and help to foster a sense of cohesion and shared culture.

The group discussion also highlighted the relevance of agro-ecological principles, coming to the consensuses that such practices:

  1. decrease dependence on external synthetic inputs and improve long term soil fertility;
  2. facilitate positive interactions between air, soil, and water;
  3. assist in the maintenance of biodiversity above and below ground;
  4. assist in the conservation of organic life within the soil; and
  5. provide greater support for adaptation and resilience and adaptation in the face of climate change.

In conversations around improved seed varieties, the forum acknowledged that the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides often contributes to increased yields and faster rates of maturation and that when markets were up, so too were their incomes. However, being tied to the turning wheel of the market becomes costly for farmers in years where commodity prices are low, while food security and incomes are put at risk to satisfy creditors.

In conversations about seed legislation and farming practices, it is important that small-scale farmers at the grassroots level have the opportunity to share their voices and concerns. Subsistence farmers in Africa and beyond are often the target of top-down, government-directed initiatives to modernize and mechanize agriculture, rather than a source of knowledge and inspiration. It is often challenging for such top-down programmes to capture the type of holistic land and resource management skills that a small-scale farmer develops over a lifetime of working the soil of his or her own farm.