Lessons to be learnt from the latest harvest season (2011)

Last Monday, October 2011, I was at Koubri. There I met with a group of about 30 farmers to review the results of the year's harvest and try to find solutions together to make the outcome less dependant on the rainfall. The farmers' grievance was that they had had a bad maize harvest because of the lack of rain. But during a break one of them told me that he had nothing to complain about : the maize he had, had turned out very well !

After the break we therefore tried to find out how it was that this farmer had had a good maize crop but the other farmers had not harvested anything at all ! I thought that maybe the lucky farmer had sown earlier than the others, but this was not the case ! All had sown on the 20th of July. But why then was there such a difference compared to the others ? Had he received « enhanced seed » ? No, he had sown the same seeds as the others. Why the luckhas he had all and the others not ?

In fact, it was not a matter of luck, but of work. He had collected and spread 60 cart loads of organic compost , good compost, on his land. The soil was nourished, the humus was regenerated and therefore able to retain water and feed the seeds. His maize plants could therefore easily survive the brief spells of drought that had done so much harm to the other maize fields. It is obvious that fertile soil can absorb water much better than a depleted one. And then it will provide nutrients for the seeds it receives !

Three days later we had the visit in Koudougou of an agronomist and former member of Parliament for the Nouna constituency. He too complained about the poor rainfalls during the last season. He was particularly worried about the farmers in his region, who had had FAO grants for enhanced maize seeds. Most of them had not even been able to harvest one single cob of good maize. Everything had dried or had been lost in fires ! In order to qualify for the FAO grants they had had to contribute 1000 CFA francs each and undertake to hand over a quantity of their maize harvest equivalent to the amount of seeds received. In other words, those who had received 100 kg of maize seeds were to return 100 kg of their harvested maize. But if there is nothing to harvest … what can they do ?

Once again, a few questions have to be answered. For an FAO expert« enhanced seeds » should give a better yield than traditional ones that the farmers themselves produce. But he forgets that the traditional seeds are also « enhanced » . The criterion applied by the farmers is not just the yield . but also a matter of seeds appropriate for their particular soil (the quality of the soil, which sometimes is impoverished) and unstable rainfalls in the region. Has anyone asked why farmers who have received enhanced seeds are also planting sorghum and millet ? The latter crop often does not yield much, but it hardly ever fails completely ! It can adapt to scarcity of rain, which maize can not.

Before distributing the enhanced seed varieties, has sufficient warning been given to farmers about the requirements of these new seeds ? In order to reach their full potential, they must be given the necessary support. Often their needs are much greater than those of traditional seeds. They need good rich soil capable of retaining water. In this once again there is no miracle. Agriculture is a system ! Changing one component is not enough (seeds in this case) to improve yields. See also our newsletter of June 16th 2009 : « Making good use of improved seeds »

As I wrote already, farmers entitled to more respect.

Koudougou, October 21st 2011
Maurice Oudet
Director, SEDELAN

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