Farmer cooperatives across West and Central Africa help expand access to improved seeds, boosting yields

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Photo: Mr Fousseyni Mariko, seed producer, President of the Cooperative Djiguifa in Solabougouda with his wife, Mrs Diala Sangare, in Sikasso region, Mali. (ICRISAT)

A farmers’ cooperative in Mali has experienced a significant increase in production of quality seeds, setting an example for other farmer organizations in Mali and neighboring countries. They are using both rainy season and dry season varieties to enhance their yields remarkably increasing resilience and farm incomes. On the occasion of the International Day of Cooperatives 2020 (4 July), we highlight how farmer cooperatives and organizations are enhancing access to quality seeds of drought-tolerant crops in Africa.

COPROSEM (Cooperative des Producteurs de Semences Maraicheres du Mali) from Mali is encouraging farmers to grow drought-tolerant crops suited to local environments, which is a key way to boost their resilience. The potential contribution of improved seed varieties to mitigate climate change impacts is well demonstrated by COPROSEM, which is being emulated by other farmer cooperatives and organizations in and around Mali. COPROSEM was founded by farmers who participated in testing research-bred varieties and wanted to produce new seed.

Mr Tenemakan Konate, marketing and sales manager of COPROSEM, says that the cooperative has diversified its cropping activities. In addition to cereal production in the rainy season, members are involved in dry season production and gardening. “Our focus has been on producing quality seeds, including early-maturing and drought-tolerant sorghum varieties most suited for our agro-ecology. This has facilitated access to improved seeds and provided the community with a range of very productive varieties,” he says. “Sale of these seeds have enabled many to buy agricultural equipment and inputs, to build houses, and more importantly, to achieve food security and self-sufficiency.”

On the International Day of Cooperatives, I would like to make a call for a greater support to farmer cooperatives because working collectively is more impactful. As the saying goes: If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. – Mr Tenemakan Konate, COPROSEM

From development of varieties to their adoption, ICRISAT works intensively with smallholder farmers and cooperatives to develop solutions adapted to overcome adverse climatic and agricultural conditions. Mr Balla Berthe previously only grew cotton but now is in favor of climate-smart sorghum which is better suited to drought conditions and unstable rainfall. When asked about the learnings from farmer fields schools and the participatory varietal selection (PVS) process, he says, “Knowledge of, and attention to knowing the origin and purity of seed, and thus being able to bring in more diversity of seed varieties was good learning.”

Mr Namakan Keita, a farmer from Kéniéro, says that as a member of a cooperative, he belongs to a knowledge-sharing community where he has learnt many things about crop management options and improved seed varieties (Soumalemba, Grinkan, Soumba and Lata).

“PVS trials are regularly organized for farmers in various agro-ecological zones to select the best varieties of sorghum resistant to climate change and drought,” says Mr Denis Yameogo, President of the Departmental Union of Cereals Producers (UDPC), who have adopted Jakunbe, an early-maturing and drought-tolerant sorghum variety. (In Bambara language, spoken in many West African countries, Jakunbe means the variety that is resistant to drought).

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