SAVE THE SEED, FEED THE FUTURE

t the heart of the ‘green revolution’ is SEED. The seed diversity of many African countries including Ghana is seriously under threat. They are being replaced by the more preferred ‘certified and hybrid’ seeds and thus many indigenous seed varieties are facing extinction. The rich knowledge to adapt to the effects of Climate Change on agriculture by smallholder farmers, most of them women, passed from generation to generation is being replaced by ‘new’ approaches to enable food systems to ‘adapt’ to climate change.

Community, Seed and Knowledge
The Community, Seed and Knowledge (CSK) initiative was first piloted in Zoosali and later scaled up to 4 other farming communities, in the Savelugu-Nanton Municipality of Northern region of Ghana. The initiative was RAINS’ and the communities response to reviving the communities own knowledge and indigenous practices to adapt to Climate Change. The Community, Seed and Knowledge initiative highlights the role of women in indigenous seed selection, preservation and maintenance through also exchange and sale. The communities have been supported by RAINS to lead an ‘exploration’ involving all the aspects

that touch on their farming systems but most importantly, rediscovering indigenous seeds in line with their current context and that is most relevant for ensuring their food sovereignty.

The CSK is addressing the urgent need for farmers to understand the causes and effects of climate change through capacity building and increase resilience of smallholder farmers to impacts of climate change based on the already existing local knowledge. RAINS has worked with smallholder farmers in Zoosali; Yilikpani; Kpachelo; Langa; Tindang in Northern region of Ghana. In these areas, the women farmers constitute an approximate 80% of all the small-holder farmers and thus special attention is played to them; not as ‘problems to be solved and lacking in agency’, as has become the norm in food security initiatives, but rather as knowledge holders and solutions providers, who only need to be accompanied in the great work they already do, of protecting our seed sovereignty and by extension food sovereignty.

Identification of indigenous seeds
Central to the CSK initiative has been efforts to accompany farmers to analyze and understand their food systems. Indigenous seed varieties developed over the years by the farmers themselves have clearly shown themselves to be better adapted to local conditions and the environment, and have also ensured household food security because of their diversity and resilient to changing climatic conditions. With colonization, seed diversity was abandoned while monocultures and production system geared for the market only, at the expense of feeding the people was and still is privileged, in not only Ghana but in every corner of Africa. Most Smallholder farmers through thorough analysis of their situations identified variety of local crops they have in past have secured households against food insecurity.

The crops these communities identified have included; bambara beans, cowpeas, sanze, bungu, pigean pea, sorghum, late millet, yellow maize, cassava, seseme, bulbibera yam, neri, pena (frafrapotatos), agusi (akata), sweet potatoes, rice, simpie, sapiriwa and dua.

The entire farming cycle is also taken into consideration seasonal weather forecasting and land preparation, planting and planting materials, cultural practices (mulching, zero or minimum tillage, weeding); harvesting and storage have been catered for by CSK and the holistic revival of local knowledge systems of the people.

Participating in each of these modules increased farmer’s knowledge in good agronomic and climate smart practices. With such knowledge, farmers were able to use the knowledge to enhance the growth of crops through revival of indigenous seeds. For example, ploughing across slope (contour ploughing) and zero or minimum tillage are acts of conserving water, whereas mulching also support and promote soil nutrients.

Farmers are hopeful the next season will be a productive one, because the season will provide another opportunity to use or apply all the knowledge acquired from their communities, as part of the initiative is support to smallholder farmer to cultivate 200 acres of land using indigenous seed varieties. The idea is to promote the use of indigenous seed in rural communities, which are considered more nutritious than hybrid varieties and also meet the dietary needs of rural folks. These varieties are also to a large extent considered ‘climate smart’; as they possess qualities such as drought tolerant; early maturing and high/better yielding in a holistic sense.
RAINS has given support to 200 smallholder men and women farmers to cultivate and revive a number of indigenous crops in five communities within the Savelugu-Nanton Municipality.

A significant number of farmers have reported a substantial increase in yields as compared to previous yields
According to Fusiena Mahamadu of Zoosali community, “I have embraced the approach proposed by RAINS and our community over the years; one that has improved the food and economic situation in my family. My children have enough to feed on this year and I have stored some of my farm produce for next year”.

The CSK initiative is basically about using indigenous knowledge to facilitate agricultural activities in rural communities. As such, the initiative has brought back to communal farming the use of bullock traction method. A method that maintains moisture and nutrients in the soil for effective plant growth. It appears this method of ploughing now much preferred by most farmers. Over the last year, farmers have used this approach and have expressed satisfaction in the use of bullocks for ploughing purposes. With all the knowledge acquired, each farmer obviously understands and utilizes the trainings in a unique manner from another. As such RAINS facilitated learning and exchange visits to promote cross learning to enable farmers to share experiences on how each of the knowledge acquired is done differently from another community.

During this exchanges, farmers have the opportunity to visit the farms of the host community, observe closely and advised if challenges are identified the best practice to resolve such a challenge. It is a useful exercise to promote knowledge sharing and ways to improve agricultural activities of rural communities. Most farmers are able to learn quickly when such learning opportunities are led by fellow farmers. Over the years visits of this nature have encouraged learning among smallholder farmers, and farmers are hopeful that this will continue to ensure an increase in productivity.
Evaluation of the project indicated about 80% of farmers have increased knowledge about climate change and enhanced capacity to adapt to impacts of climate change. An equal percentage of farmers have also recorded an increase in overall yields, better nutrition at the household and community level as a result of the CSK initiative with the next step being consolidating these gains and translating them into economic gains. In effect farmers are gradually shifting from the conventional practices to a more holistic and sustainable – agro-ecological way of farming in the Savelugu-Nanton Municipality.

The writer is a project officer at RAINS