From Variety Tests and Farmer Field Schools to the Sale of Seed Packs and “Integrated Striga control” Packs
By Tom Van Mourik, Samuel Guindo and Sidi Toure
During the last week of May 2011, a team of ICRISAT-HOPE project scientists and technicians traveled to Mopti, Djenne and Tominian districts of Mali, West Africa, to prepare for activities for the coming 2011 rainy season.
Working in collaboration with the Aga Khan Foundation and the Union des Agriculteurs de Cercle de Tominian, preparations were made for installing 30 farmer field schools on integrated Striga and soil fertility management (ISSFM) in 5 clusters and with numerous pearl millet and sorghum variety trials in about 42 villages.
In addition to the continuation of activities of the last two years, four new activities were planned for upscaling in these areas:
- Demonstration plots showing improved practices for pearl millet cultivation
- Large-scale use of media (print, radio and video) for disseminating knowledge on improved varieties and practices
- Sale of more than 4000 seed packs of improved varieties of sorghum and pearl millet and
- Sale of 400 “integrated striga control” or ISC packs.
The ISC packs are meant to enable the farmers to try out and experiment with ISSFM themselves and to cover a field of 25m by 25m.
The ISC pack consists of 200 g of seed of an improved pearl millet variety called “Toronion”, 1 kg of cowpea seed of a variety called “Dunanfana”, 1 kg of Di-ammonium phosphate for application as a micro-dose at sowing or at first weeding, 1 kg of urea for application at booting stage of pearl millet and an information sheet on how to apply the ISSFM technique.
The farmers are themselves expected to apply compost to the plot and to hand pull Striga at flowering. These are described on the information sheet with pictures and minimal text in the local language (see picture on the right). This pack costs 1500 West African francs (CFA), which is about US$3.3.
Another version of the control pack is meant for intercropping pearl millet with groundnut and is slightly more expensive, due to the high price of groundnut seed and the need for 2 kg instead of 1 kg of cowpea seed. This pack costs 2500 CFA (about US$5.6.)
After presenting the seed packs and the ISC packs, the prices were communicated and a dissemination strategy developed by the communities and the facilitators. The dissemination strategy consisted of designating selling points, mainly input shops and people responsible for the sale.
Farmers started buying the seed packs and the ISC pack immediately after the presentations. The ISC packs were especially popular, because according to the farmers, they are composed of seeds and fertilizer, which will allow them to experiment themselves on a small scale. Some farmers explained that they would do half of the field with the recommended practice, but that they would try out other techniques with the rest of the fertilizer, like mixing seeds of their local variety of pearl millet with fertilizer for sowing larger areas.
The first buyer of the ISC pack was a lady called Kadia Sanogo (top picture). When she was asked why she preferred the ISC pack to the seed pack, despite the much higher investment price (a seed pack for pearl millet would only cost her 125 CFA, about US$ 0.3), she simply replied “but the ISC pack already has a seed pack in it and more!”. It appears that offering a diversity of products in one package stimulates farmers to not just follow instructions on how to use the package, but also experiment with the use of individual products.
Despite the popular belief that farmers in Mopti, Djenne and Tominian districts of Mali are reluctant to pay higher prices for seeds than for grain, many farmers have already started paying seeds for real quality seed prices (over 250 CFA/kg). In our view, when farmers are convinced of the quality of the product (by having evaluated ISSFM and varieties in trials for two years and observing the quality of the product for sale), they are willing to pay for it. Everyone is curious to see how the seed packs and ISC packs will perform and a monitoring strategy is being put in place in order to evaluate and improve the packs for next year as well as looking for ways to increase the scale (numbers of packs for sale).
The ICRISAT-HOPE project is working to reach at least 110,000 households in sub-Saharan Africa with new and improved technologies, and to improve productivity of sorghum and millet by 35 – 40%.
It is expected that through the use of such seed packs and ISC packs, many farmers will be able to try out integrated Striga control and soil fertility improvement on their own and improve productivity and profitability of their pearl millet and cowpea crops.
Tom and Samuel also shot these two videos from one of the Striga pack distributions:
(With French subtitles)
(With English subtitles)