Monday, 18 February 2008


Originally from the AfricaFocus BulletinDec 20, 2007 (071220)
I downloaded it from the African Studies Centre - University of Pennsylvania

....Today, extended families still keep each other alive during droughts. They do need outside food assistance. ...However, sharing what little there is keeps people alive. Sharing extends the grain much beyond the donors' calculations; after each drought in Southern Africa over the last decade (1992, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004), the donors note how minimal food aid tonnage kept so many alive. Estimates of those at risk at the beginning of a famine season are not exaggerated, but minimal imports of food seem to prevent starvation. [While] communities are too poor to prevent malnutrition in a drought; they have time and again prevented massive, widespread starvation.

An excellent farmer takes pride in her seed - and shares it with the community. Part of the sharing is scientific; to see if these few seeds that taste better can germinate well in a field with worse soil, or drier terrain. Or perhaps the neighboring relative is a better farmer and will be able to propagate more of the ?new? seed. Part of the sharing will be commercial, exchanging good-quality seed for some oxen power to plow a small plot. Those with smaller plots often farm more intensively, and therefore, carefully watch over seed. They may be poorer in money terms or land, but richer in quality seed. Seeds are still a highly valued gift, for each one propagates many hundreds more. ...

In many, not all, parts of urban Southern Africa, the fields are brought to the city. In Dar es Salaam (a city of over 2 million), almost every little patch of land (too little to be called a plot) has some food crops planted - from delicate-leafed mchicha (a type of spinach) to the broad-leafed, majestic banana trees. In Harare and Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe, the small patch is so carefully and intensively farmed that one maize expert estimates the yield would be as high as the very best commercial farmer (about 10 tons/hectare, which is about 2.5 acres). But they don't have hectares, or even quarter hectares, but patches measuring 5 x 3 meters. Urban agriculture is so extensive throughout Zimbabwe that its yield is what keeps people alive in an economy with 60 percent unemployed. Have you ever wondered how any mother could keep her sanity if she lives in a country with rampant annual inflation (especially for bread and cooking oil), and unemployment of 60 percent, with 80 percent living below the poverty line? Those figures are lethal and describe more than one African economy. Too many die every day. But most survive through their own traditions of sharing their indigenous knowledge and recent innovations; they grow their own food, save seed, and exchange it. They plant on every open corner of earth. They share the harvests. ,,,.

Selection of seed is assigned to the most adept - male or female - who has a good eye and knowledge to select the most robust. The better farmers choose seed from the best plants in the field. "Best" defines the strongest, the one yielding the most grain, with the preferred color, pest resistance, and drought resistance. Africans prefer not to select a plant simply because it has the highest yield. Many more traits are equally valued, not the least of which is the taste and texture of the grain. Selection chooses vigor, taste, color, texture, and yield. A plant scientist from Zimbabwe laughed as she said, when the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) comes with advice, the agenda is always "yield, yield, yield"? She said Zimbabweans are equally interested in several other traits. ... A Tanzanian plant geneticist stated that they refuse to breed only for yield for that is "monoculture within monoculture" - preferring one trait of hundreds within one crop of hundreds. He pointed out that American seed breeders ignore taste because the industry manufactures taste with additives of sugar and citric acid. ...
As you can see from this article, seed saving is not just a hobby for gardeners in our relatively affluent society but is at the roots of human development. Without it there is no civilisation.

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