Southern Africa: Project aims to fill seed gap

JOHANNESBURG, 29 October (IRIN) - In response to the desperate need for agricultural rehabilitation in Southern Africa, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has begun an initiative aimed at providing timely inputs to farmers in the region.
Having just returned from a trip to Zimbabwe to assess projects in that country, CRS spokeswoman Franne Van Der Keilen told IRIN that in addition to general food distributions and targeted feeding of the vulnerable, CRS felt it was "vital to address the underlying factors" contributing to the regional food crisis. The organisation had started seed fairs with this in mind.

"In Zimbabwe, CRS provides vouchers to vulnerable farmers to allow them to purchase locally available seed of their own choosing and appropriate to varying local ecological conditions. The fairs offer a range of seed varieties in order to encourage crop diversification, which help to balance people's diets," she said.

Aid agencies estimate that about six million people will need food aid to survive in Zimbabwe until the next harvest in March 2003. But with the World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation warning of a critical shortage of seed and agricultural inputs, the numbers could well climb should the next harvest fail.

In instances where there was seed available, prices were generally unaffordable for local farmers, the agencies had found.

The CRS initiative was aimed at meeting the critical need for appropriate seed inputs for local farmers.

"Seed vouchers and fairs allow participants to operate on a level playing field in choosing between local cash and traditional food security seed varieties. The vouchers are denominated in local currency and redeemable at the seed fairs. The fairs bring together local seed producers and farmers, facilitating the exchange of appropriate agricultural varieties and the sharing of local knowledge," Van Der Keilen added.

Apart from empowering farmers, the CRS project aimed to strengthen the rural markets as seed traders were guaranteed a market through the seed fairs.

"By providing the farmers [with] the type and amount of seed they want, a cash injection into the local economy takes place creating jobs and free market incentives while at the same time, CRS uses free markets to distribute humanitarian assistance. It is a new way of doing business in an emergency situation," she noted.

The seed fairs and seed vouchers initiative in Zimbabwe was based on a model that was developed by CRS and first applied in Uganda in 2000. "It is now used in a number of countries in East Africa and was recently introduced to the Southern Africa region," Van Der Keilen added.


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