Where do more than 80% of the smallholder farmers in West Africa go for seeds? They go to a neighbor’s farm.
If farmers can be trained to produce good-quality seed, then the existing system of community and informal exchange can be strengthened. And, if the seeds are produced and marketed by women farmers’ groups, then it could be the starting point of a viable seed enterprise.
Working with the West and Central African Women Rice Farmer Group Association (WORIGA), AfricaRice has laid the foundation of grassroots seed enterprises in Benin, Togo and Senegal. Though the enterprises are still at a nascent stage, the seed of the idea has been sown.
“The idea is to see whether we can organize women rice producers into small community-based seed enterprises, support them with research products, and link them with the market,” says Dr Rita Agboh- Noameshie, gender specialist at AfricaRice and the mentor for the project.
Though AfricaRice had been working with many of the constituent women-farmer groups of WORIGA, the Center’s involvement in this project started with training programs that it organized on seed production. The training sessions were organized at Glazoué in Benin, Adéta and Danyi in Togo, and Saint-Louis and Kolda in Senegal.
In each of the countries, 30 women farmers were trained on the production of quality seed, seed selection and entrepreneurship. In addition, a few extension agents and representatives of NGOs were also trained to strengthen follow-up and sustainability of the project.
The women were trained on techniques for seed preparation, harvest and postharvest operations, and the steps needed for seed certification. The trainers included experts from the NARS and from the national seed services.
The women farmers’ groups were given foundation seeds, from which they produced commercial seeds that can be shared with their communities and other villages. The women farmers from villages around Glazoué in central Benin cultivated 550 kg of foundation seed on 12 ha of land in different villages and generated 39 tonnes of commercial seeds.
“We distributed the foundation seeds of NERICA 1, 2, 4 and NERICA-L 20 that we got from AfricaRice after the training to the farmers groups in surrounding villages to get more farmers involved in the process,” says Ms Antoinnette Agoussou, President of the Imoura-Iche Union representing 18 women-farmer groups near Glazoué, which is a part of WORIGA.
Agoussou says that though the Imoura-Iche Union has been working with AfricaRice since 2000, the seed production training project has given the partnership a new direction. The farmers’ love for the NERICA varieties can be seen from the names they have given to some of them in the Dacha language spoken in and around Glazoué. They named NERICA 4 ‘Gbaminaya’ meaning ‘it has saved me’, and NERICA 1 ‘Iyatan’ meaning ‘my sufferings are over’.
The ability to grow good-quality seeds has excited the members of the Imoura-Iche Union and they want to distribute excess seeds to other rice farmers in Benin. Though they have not yet thought through a marketing strategy, they feel confident that they will be able to start a seed enterprise soon.
Agboh-Noameshie feels satisfied that the training and follow-up have been able to encourage women smallholder farmers to get into growing and marketing seeds. The results of the first season have been successful and, with greater focus on certification and marketing, the women could become seed entrepreneurs.
“If the momentum continues, then we hope that in the coming years 50 to 80% of the seeds used by farmers in the areas which have impact from the project will be of good quality and of improved varieties. At least one-half of the rice producers will be encouraged to buy seeds from the micro-enterprises, thereby increasing the income of the women farmers by 10 to 20%,” said Agboh-Noameshie.
The members of Imoura-Iche Union have started working forward from the seed linkage and want expert advice on cultivation practices. “During our training, we saw a combine harvester in operation. We want to include mechanization in our farming,” hopes Ms Madeleine Koudere from Savè. Ms Jacqueline Daga of Okpataba village wants support in getting fertilizers, and another member needed training on the appropriate use of herbicides.
Though the entry point was through seed production, the team at AfricaRice did think that it would lead to other areas related to rice production. “We are helping to build a research program around the activity of training women on seed production and entrepreneurship. The project will use a scientific protocol to assess the effectiveness and impact of training farmers in making quality seed available,” says Dr Aliou Diagne, AfricaRice program leader and impact assessment economist.
“This project links the strengthening of the informal seed sector in West Africa with women’s empowerment. It also links women smallholder farmers to research, microfinance and markets. And, most important, it will strengthen institutions,” Diagne adds. With encouraging initial results, this seeds project holds the promise of turning the smallholder women farmers into a successful businesswomen producing and marketing seeds.
Video : Women rice farmers of Africa