As told by Mere Jah, of CEO of CEVASTE, Benin
Under the central tree of the village of Tori, the team of the Bread for the World-funded SEWOH project* and villagers had gathered to speak about this unwelcome guest who has made the whole earth tremble and all the traditional soothsayers and modern planners stammer.
The team explained that everything had stopped in those countries called the great powers, and that it was now necessary to wash your hands regurlarly, to wear a mask and stay at distance from each other.
Papa K, the dean of the community, greeted everyone with a serious air and said bluntly, “It is the hand of God. It has been too long that men forget that we must listen to Mawu, respect our foster mother and cultivate the land. Too many of our young people flee and run to the city to drive motorbike taxis or look for small jobs and now it’s down there that the disease is hitting. There is no more work, everything has become expensive, they can no longer eat and want to return to the village. Should we accept them? How to protect us?
Immediately the dean of the women answered, “They are our children. We have to welcome them and then not everyone is sick.”
Everybody took refuge in their thoughts. In an instant life had changed. The cordon sanitaire [sanitary road blocks manned by police] no longer made it possible to move around the country, minibuses and buses were prohibited. The churches, temples and mosques were closed as well as the refreshment bars. Even for mourning it was forbidden to be more than 10 people. From now on each one went to the field with heavy heart, because even the rain refused to fall.
Kinija, a young woman broke the silence, “At the last market,the price of gari [cassava flour] has doubled, a tongolo [a traditional Beninese mesure equivalent to 1kg] was 500 francs.” The men shook their heads in disapproval. Brother Edou exclaimed in disbelief: “What, our gari? Our cassava flour has always been the salvation of the poor, mixed in water with a little sugar and peanuts, everyone will sleep satisfied.”
Kinija went on, “as for the corn there were few, many prefer to keep their reserve; we do not know how long this situation will last, so it is wise to keep your provisions.”
Papa K replied, “It’s true, this situation shows us that the main thing now is to have food and not bank notes. The trainers of the SEWOH project are right when they tell us that our endogenous seeds are worth more than gold bars and that we must protect and multiply them.”
Affo, an elder woman replied, “he who eats well resists the disease. Our parents ate better than we. It is urgent for us to make some change so to stay healthy.” All nodded in agreement.
“You know I bring yam from Savalou,” said Estelle, a young dynamic woman from the community. “It is very appreciated on the market but the price of transporting goods has increased so much that I might have to stop.”
Noellie asked, “What are we going to do with our children? The school is closed, will they lose the school year? Coronavirus really brings too much trouble.”
Elder Papa K took the floor again. “Have you understood that we will have to produce more, 3 times more. Once for our food, once to be able to sell in the market and once to have a reserve because the coronavirus showed us that suddenly everything can change and leave us dry.”
Brother Homevo agreed and added, “The SEWOH project came at the right time to remind us the importance of our seed heritage. We should really revive it. It has allowed our parents to eat for generations. I had never imagined before that Europe and the big cities could have no answer.”
Sonouewa replied wryly, “The first will be the last.”
Some laughed but Affo clapped her hands and said : “It is not time to laugh. We are not through yet. Coronavirus is deadly they said. We have disobeyed the laws of Nature so much, let us pray and be vigilant. May Mawu protect us.”
* In the village of Tori, 20 people (15 women, 5 men) are part of the SEWOH project. With them is the responsability to share the acquired knowledge with the rest of the village population. SEWOH is a project funded by Bread for the World which is led by the ABN in collaboration with four partners: ISD (Ethiopia), CEVASTE (Benin), RAINS (Ghana) and EarthLore (Zimbabwe).