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A Seed Caravan in Mali

Farmers in West Africa Celebrate Biodiversity with a Seed Fair in Douentza
May 2006
Entertainment outside one of the Seed Banks during the Caravan

In November 2005, Aly Togo boarded a small bus in his village of Bankass, Mali, carrying several small bags of seeds. Arriving in nearby Mopti, he joined 130 other farmers on a five-day caravan, traveling about 200 km northeast towards a seed fair in the village of Douentza. Their purpose? To celebrate local crop diversity, and the knowledge and practices that sustain and generate it.

The farmers displayed their seeds and other planting materials for one another and for a large turnout of visitors, including government officials and the media. Three staff from USC Canada joined the farmers and USC colleagues in Mali for the event. About 1,200 people attended the evening celebrations in the public plaza where music, theatre performances, interviews with farmers, and documentaries all praised farming and traditional knowledge.

Aly, a farmer and health promoter, was also there to talk about the crops and seed storage practices of the Dogon, one of the many peoples of this land. Mana Diakité and Modibo Goïta of USC Afrique de l’Ouest were also on hand to talk about the importance of local varieties, which are adapted to the difficult growing conditions of the Sahel region, but are threatened due to climate change and displacement by external seeds. These varieties must, therefore, be carefully nurtured.

Awa Kagoé, a farmer from Douentza, took top prize at the seed fair for her display

Prizes for Diversity
Participants were given awards for displaying the greatest diversity. A jury of seven examined the materials each farmer had brought, asking questions about their various uses. The jury was amazed with the crop diversity and the selection criteria used by farmers.

The jury heard how farmers plant numerous varieties of a crop species depending on ecological, storage, and culinary needs. Varieties suited to short growing cycles and drought resistance are particularly valued in this part of Africa. Jurors awarded prizes based on factors like the harshness of growing conditions, the level of participation by both women and men, and the quality of information farmers received prior to the caravan.

Twelve prizes were awarded in all, and participants from Douentza took the top places – a good indication of the success of USC’s years of work in the region, supporting and promoting community seed supply systems that feature local seed and gene banks. During the fair, participants were able to visit such facilities run with pride by inter-village committees.

Similar Events Planned for the Future
For his part, Aly said he had not known much about what would happen at the seed fair. As a result, he had only brought his oldest seeds, rather than all his planting materials. But he was convinced of the significance of the event for exchanging ideas among farmers and for focusing attention on the value of local varieties.

By the end of the fair, farmers may have been tired but there was still excitement in the air. Many vowed to return to a future event to display even more of the diversity they cultivate at home.