Seeds of Survival

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USC Canada in Guatemala

The SoS program in Guatemala will build on our local partner organization’s work by focusing on seed security and supporting farmers in doing collective research on their farms. This support includes facilitating the creation of local agricultural research committees – or CIALs for short.

CIALs are groups of farmer-researchers who work together and with the larger network of CIALs to solve farming problems. They take on issues like poor soil, changing climate, and lack of water, learning to grow more, diverse food by implementing new, Earth-friendly techniques, breeding crop varieties well-suited to these growing conditions, and starting seed banks. Seed banks and grain storage systems come in particularly handy in times of food shortage. The CIALs have built-in policies to promote women’s empowerment and youth engagement.

With training and support from USC Canada and our SoS partner in Honduras – where we have been working with farmer-researcher groups since 2000 – farmers in the program area have embarked on creating eight CIALs. Advice from USC Canada's partner in Bolivia will also support a move toward organic production and marketing of potato seeds.

Our Local Partner: ASOCUCH

The Association of Organizations of the Cuchamatanes (Asociación de Organizaciones de los Cuchumatanes, ASOCUCH) is an association of indigenous farmers' cooperatives. It represents 13 coops, eight farmers' associations and 68 women's groups for a total of more than 9,000 members, most from Maya Indigenous communities. With 14 years of experience, ASOCUCH has a proven track record supporting food security at the community level. ASOCUCH supports marketing for the products its farmers produce and starting small businesses. The association helps its members adapt to climate change through programs like participatory plant breeding and agroforestry.

Where Do We Work?

During this first year of the Guatemala SoS program, we will work in 17 communities in the department of Huehuetenango. These communities were seen to have critical levels of food insecurity.

 

Core Work

Priorities for communities where we work include

  • finding agroecological solutions for farming on rough hillsides with poor soils
  • learning how to adapt their farming to climate change
  • building their seed supply (and the storage and banking systems to go with it)
  • preserving the area's biodiversity of maize and beans
  • increasing yields in all crops

Women's Leadership

Herlinda Matías is a young facilitator with the farmers' group Association of Buena Vista Campesinos in Forestry (Asociación de Campesinos Forestales de Buena Vista, ADECAF), a member of ASOCUCH. As part of her new role, she participated in women's leadership training to learn how to better support other women in community organizing. Around the world, women are often responsible for the work that goes into growing food and the care that goes into tending the land. But recognition of this doesn't always happen.

Herlinda Matias, a young woman, sits smiling between a man in a hat and another woman at a table. She is holding a pen in her hand and papers are spread out on the table in front of them.

Herlinda Matías (centre) in training. (Photo: ASOCUCH)

Through working with ASOCUCH, Herlinda is learning how to be a leader and a listener, so that women's voices are heard and their work is recognized.

ASOCUCH's policy for gender equity – which includes empowerment of rural and indigenous women – lists ways to help achieve the active participation of women in its network. This policy states that at least 40-50 per cent of leadership positions must be occupied by women and at least 20 per cent of the budget is allocated toward gender policy actions.

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Marisol Guillen Martínez (Photo: Beatriz Oliver/USC Canada)

USC Canada in Nicaragua

This is the first year of the Seeds of Survival program in Nicaragua. The SoS program supports farmers dealing with climate change and repeated droughts in the region, including a pronounced drought in 2015/16. We work with farmers to diversify and improve crops to withstand the challenging local conditions and provide for food security and income.

The SoS Program in Nicaragua is piloting local agricultural research committees (CIALs), as used successfully in Honduras, in five municipalities (Totogalpa, Palacaguina, Cusmapa, Somoto and San Lucas), in order to expand farmer participation and program reach. CIALs are groups of farmers who work together and with the larger network of CIALs to solve farming problems. They take on issues like poor soil, changing climate, and lack of water, learning to grow more, diverse food by implementing new, Earth-friendly techniques, breeding crop varieties well-suited to these growing conditions, and starting seed banks.

The SoS program seeks to strengthen community organizing to improve agricultural systems and seed supply, develop local micro-enterprises, and engage more rural women and youth.

Our Local Partner: FECODESA

Our partner, the Federation of Cooperatives for Development (Federación de Cooperativas para el Desarrollo, FECODESA) unifies 16 cooperative associations and unions, and one non-profit organization under a common banner. With more than 6,000 members from 144 grassroots coops, FECODESA assists its members in farm improvement, diversification and marketing. The team works with communities in a highly drought-prone area, called the Dry Corridor, to increase food security and income through participatory plant breeding, sustainable, Earth-friendly farming (agroecology) and cooperative marketing. 

Where Do We Work?

The SoS program will support and amplify our partner's work in 34 municipalities in the Madriz department, an area facing critical challenges due to climate change.

Core Work

  • Completed baseline study of the region's seed system (seed security assessment)
  • Creation of farmer-researcher groups (CIALs) with support from our Honduran partner, who has been using these farmer networks for more than a decade. CIALs will help farmers collectively tackle challenges.
  • Training for farmers in participatory plant breeding (PPB) and participatory varietal selection (PVS)
  • Development of drought-tolerant, early-to-harvest maize using PPB and PVS
  • Development of nutritious sorghum varieties that can be harvested sooner and can survive drought
  • Establishment of a network of community seed banks, each with seed cleaning and storage equipment

Self-Sufficiency through Diversification

In Cayantú, Totogalpa, the farm of Juan González, his son Daniel and their families, is now brimming with diversity. Coffee, vegetables, fruit trees and medicinal herbs are planted together, next to local maize and tortillero sorghum. They made these changes with support from FECODESA over the last few years and have a magnificently productive farm despite their region's regular drought. The key is trees, says Juan.

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Daniel González (Photo: Beatriz Oliver/USC Canada)

"By planting trees, there is water," he explains.

Now self-sufficient for most of their food and able to sell the surplus, Juan and Daniel are teaching their neighbours about the benefits of agroforestry, passing along both information and seedlings. They are adamant about the benefits of this approach: food security, firewood and an increased water supply.

The SoS program will build on this approach in this region which is suffering from climatic extremes and lack of regular precipitation causing crop failures and out migration.

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Juan González (Photo: Beatriz Oliver/USC Canada)

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SeedsOfSurvival

USC Canada’s work promotes vibrant family farms, strong rural communities and healthy ecosystems around the world, by focussing on activities that build food and livelihood security for small-scale farmers and preserve the agricultural biodiversity necessary to feeding a growing and changing planet.

Seeds of Survival (SoS) is the name of USC Canada’s core program working in partnerships with farming communities in 12 countries around the world:

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The first objective of SoS is to ensure a secure source of food and livelihood for small-scale farmers without losing the resource base essential for sustaining it. The second and equally important goal is to promote crop diversity.

This unique and award-winning approach embodies our values of rights, resilience and respect. It also rests on a systems perspective that recognizes the connections between our five thematic areas of work and the need to act on each of them to attain food sovereignty.

There are five key assumptions behind Seeds of Survival:

  1. Farmers are knowledgeable producers who, for a host of reasons including climate change, are finding it hard to maintain the diversity and innovation at the heart of their food security.
  2. Traditional local crop varieties are affordable, often nutritionally superior, and better adapted to challenging growing conditions than varieties not native to a region.
  3. Farmers are local experts and play as important a role in enhancing productivity as agricultural scientists.
  4. Conservation through use and plant selection is vital to protecting seed security and diversity and the survival of our planet’s biodiversity.
  5. Women and young people play a critical role in farming, and their contribution, both as farmers and leaders, must be valued if we are to achieve sustainable and vibrant rural economies.

Seeds of Survival stresses the importance of building upon small-scale farmers’ time-tested local knowledge and practices, limiting the need for external farming methods that are often incompatible with local growing conditions. A key component of the program is fostering collaborative relationships between farmers, scientists, governments and local NGO workers.

Our Ottawa-based program managers travel overseas as needed, but USC Canada does not send Canadians to work or volunteer in our program countries. We work through local independent partner organizations, or when that is not possible, through USC Canada employees hired locally.

Since the program’s start 25 years ago in Ethiopia, Seeds of Survival has allowed USC Canada and the farmers, scientists and practitioners involved in the program to build a solid base of knowledge and expertise about agroecology and its application in various cultural and ecological contexts, including harsh and remote landscapes where people have little access to external resources.

Whenever possible, we encourage exchanges between participants from different countries so they can share their knowledge with each other and with a broader group of practitioners who can benefit from it.

Seeds of Survival is a global program with projects in 11 Global South countries. In 2013, USC Canada partnered with Seeds of Diversity Canada to bring the Seeds of Survival approach home to Canada, through The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security.

Download our SoS pamphlet

Where We Work: At a Glance

Click on the country name to learn more!

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Timor Leste is a tiny half-island nation in the South Pacific. Slightly more than one million people live there, mostly in rural communities amid stunningly beautiful landscape. But it is not an easy place to live.

Though Timor Leste continues to suffer the after effects of a decades-long independence struggle with Indonesia (eventually succeeding with a vote for independence in 1999) it is a young country with enthusiasm for change, improvement and great pride in its short history.

While the country is now relatively stable, Timor Leste remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Forty per cent of the population lives in poverty.

Challenges

Timorese farmers traditionally practised shifting or swidden agriculture – burning and fallowing harvested fields and then moving to more favourable lands in valleys, along riverbanks or on level areas in the mountains. However, conflict and government resettlement policies have pushed farmers to adopt sedentary farming. Deforestation that happened during the years of conflict has had a long-term effect on watersheds and forest resources.

Most farming communities are on fragile lands affected by deforestation. Rice and maize, two of the most important staple crops, are often grown on steep, sloping lands that are highly vulnerable to degradation.

In recent years, Timorese farmers have seen dramatic changes in rainfall patterns that have made traditional practices and planting cycles unreliable. Genetic diversity within the major crops (rice, maize and beans) is limited leaving few options for managing these environmental challenges. In this humid, tropical climate, food losses during storage and in the field are an additional challenge. Improved, locally appropriate storage and pest management are key solutions.

USC Canada in Timor Leste

USC Canada's program in Timor Leste is transforming the landscape. In hillside communities, terracing is reducing soil erosion and improving soil fertility for both home gardening and crop production. Farmers are growing trees and shrubs as windbreaks and shelterbelts, while stall-feeding is helping to restrict animal grazing that would impede the regeneration of vegetation and soils. In coastal villages and upland communities, deforested and degraded hillsides are being restored with stone terraces and tree planting.

USC Canada's work in Timor Leste follows a watershed management approach, with the 18 participating communities strategically positioned around the Laclo River. Using techniques such as soil bunds and stream bank protection, farmers are restoring and enhancing the watershed, reducing erosion, flooding and water contamination.

This varied landscape is being used to grow a diversity of crops without encroaching on the natural forests and grasslands. As a result, participating communities are now reporting eating three meals a day or more, compared to the original baseline of one meal a day. USC Canada's program has been so successful in collaborating with academics, training agricultural workers and providing input into government programs and new seed policies and legislation that it has earned notice from the Timorese government and universities.

USC Canada's Local Partner: RAEBIA

USC Canada began its work in Timor Leste providing emergency funds to rural communities for food and shelter in 1997 and again in the aftermath of the tragic violence in 1999.

The program then shifted focus to sustainable agriculture, concentrating on sustainable livelihoods and biodiversity-based agriculture. Although a direct operational presence was necessary when USC Canada began its work in independent Timor Leste, the context has since changed dramatically. With our support, the once-USC Canada staff group in Timor Leste is now a local Timorese NGO called RAEBIA (derived from two words of the Timorese language Kemak, rae meaning land and bia meaning water and joined to stand for "Resilient Agriculture and Economy through Biodiversity in Action").

USC Canada has paid particular attention to the team's organizational development to ensure that RAEBIA not only has the skills and knowledge to monitor and assess progress but can access funding from sources other than USC Canada.

This video shows the USC Canada-Timor Leste relationship from a few years back before USC Canada's field office became independent:

 

Core Work: Diversifying Crops & Livelihoods

USC Canada's biodiversity-based program works with entire communities – women, men and youth – to increase food production, mitigate environmental degradation and improve economic opportunities.

In Timor Leste, home gardens provide food for both home consumption and market. We are working to diversify and enhance these home gardens by distributing a variety of seeds for different crops and by training farmers in vegetable and compost production. Crop diversity is not only improving nutrition for farmers and their families but also increasing the quantity, assortment and value of products farmers can sell in the marketplace.

The project is also providing farming families with opportunities to generate supplemental income through activities such as fish production and marketing, food processing and coffee production. Training in livestock breeding, stall construction, forage production, and veterinary care have encouraged animal husbandry and aquaculture.

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Janika Kumari of the Dudoli Villiage Forest Committee

Home to eight of the planet’s highest mountains, including Mount Everest, Nepal has intrigued travelers for centuries with its spellbinding geography and ancient cultures. From tropical savannahs along its southern Indian border to the dramatic rock and ice of the Himalayan mountains along China’s frontier, Nepal is a country of breathtaking diversity.

After a decade-long civil war that saw considerable loss of life and reduced access to food and basic services, Nepal became the world’s newest republic in 2008. Land ownership in Nepal has traditionally been concentrated in the hands of a few. Poor rural households, with limited access to land, cannot meet their food needs and, in some areas, have reached alarming levels of food insecurity.

Nepal-photo2-peppersChallenges

While Nepal’s agriculture boasts immense genetic diversity and farmer knowledge, years of introduced farming practices coupled with the steep fragile land of the mountain and hill areas have left these areas vulnerable to land degradation, deforestation and erosion. Once self-sufficient in food production, Nepal has become increasingly dependent on imports to meet food demands, making it exceedingly vulnerable to price shocks.

Increasingly, the best land closest to roads is being to grow crops for animal feed, and food for cities or export. As a result, the majority of Nepal’s farming households experience food deficits during the year. Income generating opportunities are also very limited in the rural areas; many men, especially young men, travel elsewhere to earn a living, leaving behind children and women, who suffer most from hunger and malnutrition.

USC Canada in Nepal

USC Canada has been working in Nepal since 1977. In 2007, USC Canada helped create three local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Today, USC Canada continues to work with local partners, most notably with Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research, and Development (LI-BIRD), and others, in the poor, remote, rural areas in the Middle Hills districts of Sarlahi and Makawanpur and the high Himalayan mountain district of Humla. In these areas, main concerns are coping with the challenging physical environment and adapting to changing weather patterns while trying to grow enough food on which to live.

In total, more than 10,000 people are participating in USC Canada's Seeds of Survival Nepal program, with another 5,000 households indirectly benefiting from the program.

Core Work

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USC Canada is working with its partners to support sustainable agricultural practices through organic farming, soil and watershed management, and biodiversity. The program also promotes the organization of farmers' groups and cooperatives to enhance farmers' livelihoods, as well as farmer-to-farmer exchanges.

All programming here is geared towards the long-term enhancement of food security and food sovereignty, with a focus on seed supply and diversity of plant genetic resources.

At the national level, USC Canada and its partners are working to influence high-level government policy on seeds, plant variety protection, and farmers' rights.

Our Partners in Nepal

USC Canada works with one core partner – Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research, and Development (LI-BIRD). With LI-BIRD, USC Canada supports four smaller local organizations: Parivartan Nepal in the hill district of Makawanpur, and Self-Help Initiative Program (SHIP) Nepal in the Himalayan mountain district of Humla, the Dalit Welfare Organization in the dry plains of Banke District, and the Machapuchhare Development Organization in the hills above Pokhara.

Where Do We Work?

USC Canada works in four regions of Nepal, each with a unique climate and difficulties.

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For more than a century, Honduras has been defined by its banana plantations and other monoculture cash crops produced for export. These commercial operations dominate the narrow but fertile coastal plains.

Honduras is also known for its beautiful but rugged mountain terrain that makes up 80 per cent of its territory and is also home to the majority of its people. Small-scale farmers must make their living from the poorer soils of these higher altitudes, where erosion and the effects of climate change are a constant battle. Yet these hillside farms are vital to the food security of Honduras’s rural poor.

Honduras holds great potential. It lies in a biodiversity hotspot, with many native crop varieties, especially of maize and beans. These plant genetic resources are critically important for adaptation to changing climate conditions and building resilience against pests and disease.

Challenges

The monoculture plantations of the coastal plains, owned by economic elite, produce a limited number of commercial crops and varieties. The commercial seed and plant breeders who supply them have long ignored the needs of Honduran hillside farmers and their relatively small market.

Living far from public services on the poorest quality land, small-scale farmers also tend to be excluded from government-sponsored plant breeding programs and resources. Over time, the diversity and hardiness of native crop varieties, most suitable for Honduran hillside farming, have been neglected.

With a long history of small-scale cultivation, farmers and communities harbour valuable local traditional knowledge of their crops, soils and ecosystems. But they need support.

USC Canada in Honduras

USC Canada works in three regions with more than 500 farmers in 51 communities, finding ways to overcome the challenges of hillside farming through agroecology. Our programs reach thousands more through seed exchanges and access to locally produced seed stocks.

Today, with USC Canada support, farmers are diversifying and growing more of their own locally adapted crop varieties of beans, maize and other vegetables. This agroecological approach is feeding families, improving nutrition and providing more secure livelihoods.

Participating farmers are constantly experimenting with indigenous varieties, adapting them to their needs such as better cooking and storage traits, greater productivity or higher nutrition. They have bred corn varieties with shorter, sturdier stalks, which are less vulnerable to increasingly extreme winds and rains. And they’re preserving precious soils – strengthening them through terracing, crop rotation, planting nitrogen fixing crops and making their own natural composts and pesticides.

Our Local Partner: FIPAH

The Foundation for Participatory Research with Honduran Farmers (FIPAH) recognizes farmers as local experts and researchers whose knowledge is essential in the process of identifying problems and finding local solutions.

  • WATCH: A short documentary, Saving the Seed, to learn more about FIPAH's work. 
 

FIPAH helps small-scale farmers organize themselves into community-based agricultural research teams, known as CIALs, and partners them with the technical support of FIPAH agronomists. These efforts enable small-scale farmers to conserve a diversity of native seeds and enhance crop varieties that perform well in local conditions and strengthen the resilience of local food systems and farming communities.

As a result, the communities we work with have experienced a dramatic drop in the number of “hunger weeks” – when food runs out before the next harvest: from an average of five weeks a year down to about one week. By using an agroecological approach, these farmers have enhanced biodiversity and increased productivity of local corn varieties by 20-30 per cent, while making these varieties hardier and more adaptable to climate change.

Core Work: Farmer Research Teams (CIALs)

  1. On-farm conservation of farmer seed varieties
  2. Secure seed supply through seed reproduction and sale
  3. Participatory plant breeding
  4. Community-run seed and gene banks
  5. Cooperative grain storage systems
  • WATCH: The Story of the CIALs, for a brief look at the inner workings of the farmer research teams.

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Today, Cuba is recognized as a unique centre for organic, farmer-led agriculture. Since the early 1990s, the country has undergone a remarkable shift away from monoculture and accompanying carbon based pesticides and fertilizers. With the withdrawal of the Soviet Union at that time, Cuba was forced to explore a different approach to food production. So they began returning to the organic agricultural practices of an earlier generation.

This agroecological farming movement has supported farming cooperatives, land reforms and innovative practices like crop rotation and experimentation with indigenous seed varieties. Farmers began to build back what had once been lost – an agrobiodiverse and ecological food system resilient to climatic variability and environmental disasters. Small farmers went from being virtually ignored to becoming highly valued for their knowledge and practices.

Challenges

These small farmers have been key to revitalizing the island’s agriculture but they need more support to continue feeding the country.
The land reforms for new farmers have been steps in the right direction. Private farmer cooperatives and agroecological production now dominate the food production model but require continued support. Farmers need access to credit, services, seeds and tools.

USC Canada in Cuba

Since 2007 we have worked with our Cuban colleagues at the Program for Local Agricultural Innovation (PIAL) to support thousands of small farmers to organize, increase the availability of indigenous crop varieties and save and share seeds in communities across the island. The program estimates that it has spread seed diversity and security to over 50,000 rural farmers in Cuba.

The PIAL and USC Canada executed the successful second phase of the program from 2007-2012 with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, now DFATD). The PIAL is now in a third phase of the program and USC Canada continues collaborating with Cuba as a strategic partner.

USC Canada is currently working on a seed diversity management project to strengthen seed supply systems in three Cuban municipalities. The project includes action-learning on seed security issues and global farmer-to-farmer exchanges.

USC Canada’s Local Partner: The Program for Local Agricultural Innovation (PIAL) of the National Institute for Agrarian Science (INCA)

Since 2007, USC Canada has partnered with the PIAL of the Cuban National Institute for Agricultural Sciences on an innovative farmer-scientist research program that puts farmers in the driver’s seat. The program is based on an ecological approach to agriculture, respect for farmer knowledge and increasing agrobiodiversity.

The current program seeks to increase agricultural and food production by strengthening local innovation systems.

In 2010, PIAL founder and then coordinator, Dr. Humberto Rios, received the renowned American Goldman Environmental Award for the program’s pioneering work in introducing and expanding seed and crop diversity, participatory plant breeding and sustainable agricultural systems in Cuba.

Core work

  • Sustainable agricultural systems and agroecology
  • Participatory seed diffusion and plant breeding
  • On farm conservation of farmer seed varieties and seed banking
  • Secure seed supply through seed reproduction and diversity
  • Farmer-scientist collaboration
  • Climate change adaptation and mitigation
  • Gender equality in agricultural biodiversity

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From the rugged Andean Mountains with one of the most extensive high plateaus on earth, to the lowland plains of the Amazon Basin, Bolivia’s climate varies from humid and tropical to cold and semi-arid. It is home to some of the richest cultural and biological diversity in the world, a product of its unique mountain ecosystems and the creativity, knowledge and practices of its people.

The country has one of the largest indigenous populations in the world – 36 indigenous nations are recognized in their Constitution – which helped to domesticate Andean and common potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, lima beans and cocoa.

The Andes Mountains are important centres of origin for root, tuber, grain, legume, vegetable, nuts and fruit crops as well. Bolivia’s diversity is linked to the culture of its people. The potato, for example, originated in the Andes and is the world’s number one non-grain food crop. It’s also Bolivia’s most essential food crop. Andean farmers have been growing potatoes for about 8,000 years and manage over 4,000 farmers’ varieties.

Challenges

Bolivia faces the deterioration and fragmentation of traditional lands, changing climatic patterns and soil depletion on steep mountain hillsides. The majority of Bolivia’s rural women have little access to training or credit, and seasonal out-migration puts a strain on women and their households. As well, limited rural infrastructure and hard-to-access services contribute to rural poverty, food insecurity and social exclusion for many in Bolivia’s high mountain dwellers. Foreign investment and mining have contributed to both conflict and the industrial pollution of water supplies used for drinking and irrigation.

USC Canada in Bolivia

USC Canada has been working in Bolivia since 2007. Our program partner, PRODII is dedicated to working with rural families in remote mountain communities of the Department of Potosí.

Bolivia’s indigenous peoples have developed sustainable agricultural systems through their creativity, dynamic management skills and the conservation and sustainable use of plant resources. The farming communities within USC Canada’s program are located in a traditional mining district that has had a devastating impact on the local ecology. Agroecological production and diversity-based farming are seen as positive alternative to the boom and bust of mining and a sustainable long term way of managing natural resources and contributing to a vibrant local economy.

Our Local Partner: PRODII

PRODII is an independent Bolivian NGO founded in 1998 with the vision of contributing to the development of the poorest and most marginalized regions in the Potosí department. They work closely with indigenous farming communities to improve diversity, productive capacity and economic benefits from Andean highland farming systems. PRODII uses a methodology for capacity development with three thematic priorities: personal growth and empowerment for small rural producers, entrepreneurial culture, and agricultural biodiversity, all building on and respecting the Andean cosmovision.

Core Work: Production and Marketing

PRODII supports and strengthens farmers’ associations in the production, transformation and commercialization of agro-biodiversity products. They have made great progress in northern Potosí developing markets for popular products like teas and a nutritious drink made from the Andean tuber, oca. With producers in southern Potosí, they are marketing organic quinoa, coffee and jams. The aim is to help ensure farmers’ associations have control over the entire value chain. The program also supports better nutrition through healthy, diversified diets.

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Challenges

Mali spans three climatic zones, but in general the country experiences two distinct seasons, dry and wet. Droughts often result in devastating crop losses and it can sometimes take three plantings to yield just one crop. When the rains do come, they can come all at once, provoking flooding or water logging with disastrous impacts on crops.

Unequal rain distribution and very short and unpredictable rainy seasons remain the main challenges to adequate food production and food security of peasant communities. Producing locally adapted seeds capable of weathering the difficult environment is extremely important.

In addition to harsh climatic conditions, the recent political unrest that affected the country, in particular in the North, including the Douentza area, and the fragile return to peace, are other important obstacles to food, nutritional and economic security.

USC Canada in Mali

USC Canada’s program in Mali is anchored in over two decades of active presence, namely in the northern region of the country. USC-Mali operates in 31 communities in the Mopti region. Our Seeds of Survival program is being implemented together with small farmers to strengthen the resilience of local farming systems and support community-based seeds supply systems.

USC Canada also works with Cab Dèmè So, a Malian national NGO, in the commune of Safo outside the capital city, Bamako, reaching out to 14 villages to enhance agro-biodiversity for greater food sovereignty.

Mali-girl-with-okraIn the last five years, through our support, the network of seven established seed banks expanded to nine community seed banks (CBS) and one field gene bank, despite incredible political instability and armed conflict. Farmer networks and seed bank resources, well established in our program communities, enabled planting, harvesting and adaptation to continue.

USC Canada’s role is to support community efforts to build and increase resilience in this challenging environment. Our programming aims to diversify the varieties of crops planted to spread the risk of crop failure. To this effect, USC Canada puts biodiversity at the heart of its work promoting both gene banks (conservation of diversity) and seed banks (multiplication and dissemination of locally adapted seed varieties). With each season, saving and sharing seeds of the hardiest varieties of millet, bean and sorghum offers farmers an increased number of planting choices.

USC Canada’s Local Partners

A key feature of the program is to support farmers’ organizations. USC-Mali has been working closely with farmers and supported the creation of the Coordination of Village Committees for Activity Monitoring and Evaluation6 (CCVGSE) and the Community Seed Bank (CSB) Network in Douentza. Both organizations have been playing a key role since the beginning of the conflict in northern Mali, by taking on community accompaniment, data collection and program activities monitoring.

Cab Dèmè So works with and supports the Dunka Fa Cooperative in Safo and women’s groups, in particular those active in the Dognoumana and Somabougou ecological farms. The program focuses on strengthening food sovereignty and biodiversity trough production increase, crops varieties multiplication and market garden activities. Cab Dèmè So seeks to consolidate women farmer leadership and enhance women’s revenue through the establishment of ecological farms for market gardening and agro-forestry and providing and support and accompaniment to 56 women’s groups. Also, Cab Dèmè So does a lot of awareness raising campaigns through supporting a youth theatre group, on issue such as organic composting and access to seed and gene banks.

Core Work

Our Seeds of Survival program in Mali concentrates on reducing foreign seed dependency. Programming aims to enable better access to seeds through conservation in CSBs and crop multiplication and improvement through participatory varietal selection (PVS) activities. Farmers have diversified the types of crops they cultivate and are cultivating improved local varieties, enhancing the community’s seed security. Almost 3,000 farmers are involved in PVS activities – a crucial element in expanding seed diversity and adapting to changing climate conditions.

Activities to address climate change adaptation in the Mali program include work on soil and water conservation, agro-forestry and multiplication of improved local varieties. In recent years, USC-Mali Seeds of Survival program focused on:

  1. enhancing farmers’organisations autonomy
  2. the consolidation of gender equality at all stages of agro-biodiversity activities
  3. the development of vegetable seed production, market-gardening during the cold season, and post-harvest conservation and transformation activities
  4. ongoing work including PVS, CSBs (through seed supply, equipment and credit funds), and different capacity building workshops for producers, CSBs and cereal bank managers

Much of the programming concentrates on producing crops for market. Market-gardening programming and seed grants focus especially on women farmers as a way of increasing household economic and nutritional security. USC Canada and our partners have provided hundreds of women with seeds that they can cultivate year-round.

With one ecological farm already underway producing vegetables and practising agro-forestry, a second farm is currently being equipped. The women will use this farm for market gardening and agro-forestry for species with high market value.

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LottaHitschmanova tbnWhat's in a Name?

We’re called USC Canada because we started out way back in 1945 as the Unitarian Service Committee, founded by the energetic Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova. We’re still planting the seeds that Lotta sowed. Find out more about our founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova.

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  • Phone: 1-800-565-6872

USC Canada is a Registered Canadian Charity 11927-6129-RR-0001

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