Mali: Seed fairs help alleviate food crisis

At the end of June, Oxfam GB and its local partners organised seed fairs in pastoralist areas and along the Niger river in the Gao region. Families were able to choose seeds and were given vouchers by Oxfam to pay for them. Over 3,400 families have benefited and are able to restart subsistence farming activities.

Seed fair at Intillit

In Intillit, in the heart of the nomadic region of Mali, the population, mainly Touareg, gathered at the village centre for an unprecedented event: a seed trade fair.

The atmosphere was festive. Almost 500 people were present; some of whom had walked or ridden up to 60 km to take part. It was a true feast.

Traditional chiefs, religious leaders and state service managers were there for the opening ceremony. Everybody was smiling. The day before, the first drops of rain fell on the area, which was a good sign for the local population.

A turning point in the nomads' way of life

Traditionally nomads and breeders, the Touareg have recently witnessed major changes to their way of life. The most severe drought periods of the 70' and 80's caused widespread desertification and forced those who lost their cattle to settle in one place and adopt agriculture.

Then in 2004, invasions of locusts together with the scarcity of rains severely reduced pasture lands and wiped out crops. The food resources for the agro-pastoralist population were profoundly affected, and there were not the seeds available for future planting.

Oxfam response

Oxfam decided to organise seed trade fairs, distributing free vouchers to the poorest farmers and collecting seed sellers together in one place to form a seed market, where people could exchange their vouchers for seeds of their choice.

A month of preparation

Oxfam worked in partnership with Tassaght, a local NGO.

Attayoub, the Tassaght animator remarked, "'It's not easy to do something new. We have to convince people to bring seeds, explain to them the system of vouchers.

"We created two committees in the community: one in charge of identifying the poorest, and one responsible for identifying seed providers. They managed to bring together about twenty sellers on the trade fair day."

Seeds meet local needs

Contrary to classical seed distributions, the trade fair allows beneficiaries to choose the type of seeds they want to sow.

What is more, the benefits of the trade go directly into the local economy. Seed fairs encourage a spirit of creativity and entrepreneurship.

At this fair in Intillit, beneficiaries had the choice of peanuts, corn, millet, beans and three varieties of sorghum, particularly highly valued in the region. The seeds were tested by Attayoub beforehand to be sure of the quality.

Success to be repeated

400 people were there to choose seeds using the vouchers. Additionally, farmers who had their own funds were also able to buy seeds at the fair.

Sellers as well as buyers hope to renew the experience with or without free vouchers. "It's this kind of event that creates true long term changes in people's habits and will incite them to help themselves, says Martin Kabaluapa, Emergency programmeme Officer in Gao.