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For several decades, the prospect of a better life has prompted countless inhabitants of rural parts of Africa to head to cities. In Senegal’s Fuladu region, a local initiative aimed at making agriculture more viable aims to reverse that trend. It revolves around seeds.
A veteran of the Senegalese peasant movement now in his seventies, Lamine Biaye founded and chairs the Association Sénégalaise des Producteurs de Semences Paysannes, which uses local knowledge and trading systems to boost biodiversity through the promotion of seed production.
Having set up projects among women’s groups in different parts of Senegal, Biaye is currently focused on Fuladu, a region in Upper Casamance. Five years ago, he moved to the Fuladu village of Djimini, where he started an educational farm that specialises on seed production and market garden techniques.
Some 350 women from a dozen villages in the area now benefit from the farm’s training programmes.
“The challenge is primarily economic,” he told IRIN. “Lots of money is involved [in agricultural seeds]. We know that the multinationals don’t make things easy.”
Noting that commercial onion seeds cost between 40,000 and 50,000 CFA francs ($70 to $80) per kilo, Biaye railed against a system that prices farmers out of the market for the seeds they need to survive – a fact that demonstrates why the work of grassroots movements like his ASPSP association is so vital.
“Producing our own seeds is essential for ensuring our food self-sufficiency,” he said, explaining that the seeds he works with are “well adapted to our soil and climate”.
“You know one has to take climate change into account,” he added.
The Galmi violet onion is a case in point. “Whatever the variations in the weather, it’s a variety that thrives and reaches maturity. Its yield potential is good, even when there is less water,” said Biaye, explaining that “so-called improved or hybrid” types of onion are much more demanding, requiring expensive inputs such as fertiliser and pesticide to deliver decent yields.
Fatou Diallo, who leads women farmers in Djimini, spoke highly of ASPSP’s work.
“This training came at the right time. We would never have thought that one day we would be able to produce our own seeds ourselves,” she said. “We’ve taken big step forwards. ASPSP removed a major thorn from our feet, because buying seeds took up a lot of our costs. Now we are better equipped to produce more onions and sell them to our neighbours who have not yet mastered the technique of producing onion seeds, which are very expensive here.”
Biaye’s farm also produces rice seeds – rice is a staple in Senegal – which it provides to farmers in the area. Once these farmers harvest their rice crops, they return the quantity of seeds they were given to the seed bank, plus an additional 25 percent that is held for that farmer for future planting. This means that every two years, participating rice farmers have enough seeds of their own to be self-sufficient.
Seeds of success: the violet de Galmi onion is a very hardy variety
Twice a year, Djimini now plays host to a seed fair, which draws visitors from across Senegal and even neighbouring countries.
At these events, participants trade not only seeds but also practical tips about best farming techniques. They also serve as an opportunity to sell the produce from the market gardens and to forge ties between local associations.
Turning the tide
In the’60s, 70 percent of Senegal’s population lived in rural areas. By the early’90s that proportion had dropped to 57 percent. It has stayed at a similar level ever since.
As in many African states, rural-urban migration in Senegal is driven largely by the poor performance of the agricultural sector, which has shown meagre growth, especially compared to the country’s booming population.
Climate change (lower and less predictable rainfall), falling crop prices, and a resultant lack of financing for equipment and seeds all played important roles in making farming less attractive than life in the cities, despite the economic uncertainties there.
Many rural Senegalese also traditionally migrated to The Gambia, which their country surrounds, in search of employment. But Djimini and nearby villages are witnessing an influx from both The Gambia and Senegalese cities.
People with roots in the area have started heading back in larger numbers, often with the idea of buying plots of land so as to try their hand at agriculture.
”I decided to come home and rely on the land. From what I’ve heard, now it’s possible to do business here. It’s better than taking pointless risks abroad,” said Abdoulaye Fofana, who came back home from Dakar, where he used to sell onions and salt.
Issa Mballo, 23, travelled far to seek work – The Gambia then Guinea-Bissau, as well as several other areas of Senegal – before returning to his roots in Djimini in 2013.
At the end of the last agricultural season, as well as the sorrel, gumbo, and onions grown in his family’s small market garden, he harvested 35 50-kilogram sacks of groundnuts. “It’s going well. I think I can make it here,” he told IRIN. “The soil is very fertile, which makes it suitable for several crops without having to resort to industrial fertiliser and industrial pesticides.”
The chief of Djimini village, Oumar Sylla, said the recent training of local women in organic farming techniques had brought significant benefits.
“Before, our wives went to the market in [the nearby town of] Velingara to buy various foods. Those days are over, and the credit goes to our guests,” he said.
He added that the proof that his village is on the up and up lies in the growing number of requests for land over recent years – requests that can’t all be satisfied.
Sylla’s wife was so won over by Diaye that she gave him a parcel of land big enough for his home and his educational farm.
Challenges, however, remain. And the effects of climate change make things worse, as do human reactions to them.
Djimini comes from the Mandingo word for “where one digs water”. Older residents of the village speak of a time when residents of nearby Velingara used to come here because the water was so plentiful and sweet.
But the water table here is much lower than it used to be. One has to dig to a depth of around 50 metres before a well starts to fill up.
As drought grew more common, from the’70s onward, so cultivating crops became more difficult.
In an effort to make ends meet, many farmers turned to illegal tree-cutting, either to produce wood for carpentry or to make charcoal, an activity that often led to bush fires, further reducing forest cover and decimating local fauna that played a key role in the local ecosystem.
Attitudes are changing, and village committees work to protect the forest. At Biaye’s instigation, “we tell our husbands about the harmful effects of deforestation,” said the head of one women’s group. “And I think this is bearing fruit.”
Success breeds success.
Motorised pumps are now used to irrigate the proliferation of market gardens in and around Djimini, which now yield more than their growers can eat. The surplus is sold in Velingara, where people can now rave about the food from Djimini as well as the water.
(TOP PHOTO: The village of Djimini is enjoying a new lease of life thanks to recent agricultural projects aimed at boosting self sufficiency. Cissokho Lassana/IRIN)
farm_in_djimini.jpg Feature Solutions and Innovations Environment and Disasters Climate change Food Seeds of rural renewal sown in Senegal Cissokho Lassana IRIN Djimini Senegal Africa West Africa Senegal
A former United States Marine Corps and his Canadian girlfriend were found strangled to death in Belize and the details remained unknown.
Aid groups in Yemen are warning that an impending assault by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition on the rebel-held western port of Hodeida could tip the country into famine.
“It would be catastrophic, and the impact would be felt immediately,” said Caroline Anning of Save the Children. “Hodeida is one of seven provinces already on the brink of famine, and an attack could trigger it.”
The port, in the hands of Houthi rebels, normally handles more than 70 percent of all Yemen’s imported goods, including food and fuel. Airstrikes in 2015 damaged four of the port’s five cranes, reducing capacity, but Hodeida remains the country’s lifeline.
“There is no viable alternative,” Anning told IRIN. “[Trucking aid] overland, airlifting, using other ports – there is nothing else that would be able to fill the current gap.”
Aid and human rights groups are ringing the alarm as a donor conference on Yemen opened in Geneva today, with the UN urging action to tackle what it describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
More than 17 million Yemenis are short of food out of a population of 27 million, with close to seven million on the brink of starvation. The UN has appealed for $2.1 billion for this year, but so far has raised only $314 million – an alarming 85 percent shortfall.
Yemen’s deep humanitarian emergency has been exacerbated by two years of fighting. The conflict pits a Saudi-led coalition of Middle Eastern and African states that supports the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi against Houthi rebels and loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The coalition and the US government accuse Iran of arming the rebels, a charge Tehran denies. Hodeida is near the Bab al-Mandab strait, a choke point through which nearly four million barrels of oil pass daily. Both Riyadh and Washington regard Iran as a strategic threat to the waterway.
Hodeida is one of two remaining ports on Yemen’s Red Sea coast under Houthi control. Capturing it would deprive the rebels of the taxes they levy on imports, but is an operation that would be unlikely to be surgical or quick.
An attack on Hodeida would halt aid operations at a desperate time for Yemen, and would have an immediate impact on the population of the densely-packed city.
“Any military campaign in its vicinity, from the ground or air, would have devastating civilian consequences,” the Yemen Country Team warned in a statement.
Already, aid blockages mean agencies cannot keep pace with needs. According to the International Rescue Committee, it currently can take six months to get life-saving medical supplies from outside the country into health facilities in Yemen.
“Sea and air blockades that are already in place mean essential humanitarian supplies in Yemen are scarce, and will become even scarcer if these attacks go ahead,” the relief agency said.
All vessels carrying humanitarian cargo are inspected at sea by coalition forces. Commercial shipments to Yemen’s western ports are subject to a UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism to ensure enforcement of a Security Council arms embargo.
The inability to offload new cranes to replace the damaged ones in Hodeida is an example of the impact of the current restrictions.
According to the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and international sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, the blockade and long clearance procedure “involves grave breaches of the most basic norms of human rights law, as well as of the law of armed conflict, which cannot be left unanswered”.
Saudi concerns over the monitoring of cargo, ostensibly aimed at preventing weapons reaching the rebels, could be achieved by strengthening and expanding the current UN verification mechanism, or bringing Hodeida under third-party management, possibly a UN agency.
“That would depoliticise the process and keep what is a lifeline for northern Yemen open,” said one aid official, who asked not to be named.
The military option seems to be top of the coalition’s list, with the port a key prize on the way to the Houthi held capital of Sana’a. But Oxfam has warned that if Hodeida is attacked, “the Saudi-led coalition will not only breach International Humanitarian Law, they will be complicit in near certain famine”.
Enter the “Janjaweed”
An assault would probably happen before the holy month of Ramadan, due at the end of May, and would likely include Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces – better known as the “Janjaweed” militia.
The RSF are “shock troops”, with a long history of abuse against civilians, drawing complaints from even Sudan’s regular army. Several thousand have reportedly been sent to Yemen, according to a new Small Arms Survey report.
The Darfur-recruited militia are directly answerable to President Omar al-Bashir and the intelligence service. ”What we don’t know is how much control will be extended over the RSF [by the military commanders of coalition forces],” said Magnus Taylor of the International Crisis Group.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are believed to have provided Sudan with $2.2 billion in aid since 2015, as part of a political deal to “keep Khartoum afloat and in the coalition of Sunni states opposed to Iran”, said Taylor.
Although regular Sudanese troops are fighting and dying in Yemen, the RSF’s deployment is seen as a reward for the loyalty of their commander, Mohammed Hamdan ‘Hemmeti’, to al-Bashir. But that could turn sour if they become cannon fodder for the attack on Hodeida.
Stop the war
Yemen’s conflict has already claimed more than 10,000 lives. According to Amnesty International, all sides in the war “have carried out unlawful attacks that have killed or injured civilians and failed to distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives”.
Advocacy groups are warning that more aid is not enough to save Yemen from catastrophe. Amnesty has called on the international community to suspend transfers of military equipment to all parties to the conflict.
Oxfam has also urged the British government to “pressure all parties to the conflict to resume peace talks, to reach a negotiated peace agreement”.
It pointed out that while aid is desperately needed to save lives now, “many more people will die unless the de-facto blockade is lifted and major powers stop fuelling the conflict”.
201503262019390973.jpg News Conflict Food Human Rights Threatened attack on Yemen port will trigger catastrophe, aid groups warn IRIN Middle East and North Africa Saudi Arabia Yemen
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