Fostering agricultural diversification through emergency response

Women farmers with seeds bought at one of the seed fairs. Pic FAO
Women farmers with seeds bought at one of the seed fairs. Pic FAO

In a bid to promote agricultural diversification through emergency response, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MoAIWD) organized 90 seed fairs in 11 districts most affected by the El Niño induced drought.

Pooling a total of 128 agro-dealers, the seed fairs were conducted from 6-31 December 2016 in Balaka, Blantyre, rural, Chikwawa, Kasungu, Mwanza, Mzimba, Neno, Nsanje, Phalombe, Salima and Zomba. Eight partners (Oxfam, COOPI, Concern Universal, COPRED, Blantyre CADECOM, Chikwawa CADECOM and Save the Children), with technical support from Catholic Relief Services, implemented the exercise.

With financial support from the Government of Canada, Italian Agency for International Cooperation and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Aid (DFID), 50,922 farmers (of which 64 percent were women) that had been affected by El Nino and were targeted under the food emergency response, received a voucher each valued MWK10, 500.

Seed Fair Market locations in 2016. Pic FAO.

Seed Fair Market locations in 2016. Pic FAO.

A farmer could buy seed of cereals, vegetables and legumes of up to the MK10, 500 value. However, no farmer could buy more than MK2, 520 to MK4, 725 on maize (depending on districts). This was a condition to ensure more diversification by creating an opportunity for them to buy more of seeds of other crops than maize. In fact, in all the target districts, farmers decided to purchase the maximum of maize seeds authorized, except in Salima where only 36 percent of the voucher amount was used for maize (against 45 percent authorized).

Seeds that were bought with the remaining 55 percent varied according to location. While groundnuts were the second preferred crop in all the 11 districts but in Mzimba and Kasungu beneficiaries preferred to buy vegetables, beans and soy beans, and the third preferred crop also varied significantly according to location.

In Neno and Mwanza, beneficiaries preferred to buy seed of sorghum and beans, after maize and groundnut. In Chikwawa, Nsanje and Blantyre, they opted for pigeon peas and cow peas, while in Phalombe and Zomba they fell for pigeon peas and vegetables seed.  In Balaka, farmers preferred beans and cowpeas seed, after maize and groundnuts while in Salima the choice was for soybeans and cowpeas seed. This shows the importance of not prescribing to farmers on the type of seed for them to buy and avoiding blanket support.

While farmers would have spent the entire coupon value on maize seed if they had not been restricted, it is very encouraging to see that in the end farmers bought many different crops with the remaining 55 percent coupon value, depending on their own preferences, with beneficiaries in Mzimba and Kasungu choosing five different types of seeds and beneficiaries in Chikwawa and Nsanje, being the champions of diversification by buying seeds of nine different type of crops.