The health of communities is in their resilience
Venter Mwongera takes a trip to Benin to learn more about ABN’s partner CEVASTE and the work they are doing with three communities in the Southern region.
Construction of a traditional granary requires team effort, where each participant plays a crucial role. Construction of the base, middle, and head of the granary to make a firm and long-lasting structure, smearing dung around, are all joint activities to construct a granary to store the seeds.
This team work to construct a firm granary is similar to the ethos by which the communities of Dékouénou, Ségbanou, and Tori live. These are communities that work with ABN’s partner, CEVASTE in Benin. Upon my arrival, the three communities, led by their women, poured water at the entrance of the homestead. Dancing and ululations from both men and women filled the air as I was ushered in and expected to walk through the watered section barefoot. It is a sign of acceptance by the community of the visitor to the homestead.
Gathered around a tree within the homestead with stones and long wooden benches arranged around the tree, the families and the community members meet to discuss matters affecting them. Amidst these discussions, agriculture as their mainstay is on the agenda. “The common challenge to growing crops and stocking our granaries year-round is insufficient rains. Lack of water leads to little or no yields in farming since the seeds dry up before they sprout. If we receive light showers, they sprout and wither since rains are not enough,” explains Mr. Edou Rigobery, President, Tori community.
Although climate change has affected all sectors of the economy, agriculture has been particularly affected since the farming calendar is no longer predictable. Yet, the 20 members of the Tori community see opportunities. “The hybrid seeds are not resilient to harsh climatical conditions, but the indigenous seeds are resilient to drought, pests, and diseases. So, we no longer plant hybrid seeds but indigenous ones,” expounds Rigobery, smiling.
The Tori community has saved 17 indigenous seeds in its community seed bank. Their target is to save 22 seed varieties by June 2021. Since they believe in communal living, the Tori community has opened up their community seed bank to the neighbouring Dékouénou and Ségbanou communities who are yet to establish their own seed banks. These two communities have each 20 members and are encouraged to bring their own seeds to save in this seed bank and collect some, as need be, for planting during the planting season. Community member, Mr. Koutohou Léon generously donated the land where the Tori community built their seed bank.
Land in the region is expensive as business people have bought up a lot of it, increasing the demand and raising the price, making it too expensive for the communities. With scanty rains and insufficient funds to install a drip irrigation system to farm year-round, the communities have not been able to buy land to construct a community seed bank.
In the Tori community, just like the meaning of its name ‘everyone is here’, each member of the group contributes money to buy food and eat together during their meetings so that no one goes home hungry.
The impact of the training on the communities
These three communities have received agroecological teachings from CEVASTE through face-to-face meetings and the community radio FM stations, through an agricultural talk show broadcasted in their local language.
Some of the training offered so far include: the introduction to agroecological methods, making of compost, organic insecticides, and organic farming techniques.
Thanks to the radio programs on agroecology practices aired fortnightly, some farmers who practiced conventional farming have decided to send their children to CEVASTE’s training center to learn about agroecology. Additionally, after listening to the agronomy radio programs, the mayor of the town of Ouidah, where two of the communities in the project are located, decided to distribute agricultural tools and a corn mill to the community of Ségbanou to encourage them in their work.
These communities are the custodians of the indigenous knowledge, they teach and mentor the youths on names of different seeds, their germination behavior, storage, seed selection, social and cultural activities related to different seeds.
CEVASTE’s activities in these communities has had the impact of building the confidence of the communities to save, select and build a seedbank for the seeds’ continuity. The communities’ willingness to learn new agroecological practices to add to their indigenous knowledge and information indicates their passion to preserve their indigenous seeds and continuity of their socio-cultural activities. In the face of a triple crisis of locusts, Covid-19 and food insecurity, all exacerbated by global warming, the communities’ are building their resilience through deepening their knowledge.