Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks for Food: Food Security and Seed Storage

It’s almost Thanksgiving and ‘tis the season to be thankful. And, as I think about all the great food we PCVs are pulling together for our Thanksgiving feast here in Kaolack, I can’t help but be thankful for food – and not just for the food itself (for how tasty it is and for how it sustains us), but also for the people that work so hard to grow it and transport it and sell it, for the sun and the soil that support the plants that become our food (directly or, as is increasingly the case in the States, indirectly), for the researchers and educators who help improve and adapt agricultural activities, and for the ways in which communities (large and small, local and international) can be built and strengthened through food. As an ag volunteer here in Senegal, the main part of my job is helping people grow better food – better in terms of increasing yields, increasing diversity, and increasing sustainability. This is essentially what is meant by the term “food security” – the ability to grow enough food for yourself (whether that “self” is a single individual, a family, a community, or a nation) to sustain yourself all year round. This concept focuses are the ability to literally grow the food yourself, rather than growing something else to sell to have money to buy other food, but it certainly does not exclude the possibility of trade and specialization (as is the current trend throughout the world). One way to help ensure food security is to improve farmers’ ability to store their seed from year to year during the dry season in a community-based seed storage facility. Seed storage in and of itself is helpful for food security because it allows farmers to have seed from the previous year to plant without having to worry about having money to buy seed (since the time right before the rainy season is usually when people are shortest on money) nor worry about if there will be seed available (based on many different factors that could affect this, like the government, seed companies, and roads and other infrastructure issues). And having a community-based seed storage facility helps farmers because it is a safer, more secure, better place to store seed than the average seed storage location for an individual family because it’s a actual separate building with (in theory) secure walls, ceiling, and doors so animals (and people) can’t get in and eat or steal seed. Having a common building for seed storage also means that farmers are less likely to eat their seed (if they are getting low on money and food), and it means seed is usually properly stored (in terms of using the correct chemical treatments if necessary) since everyone is storing their seed together. All in all, a seed storage facility is one of many ways to improve food security in a community. The PCV before me in Kayemor, Kate, met with farmers, community leaders, and a local NGO when she first got to Kayemor to determine what the community saw was their primary need/desire. They determined that a community seed storage facility was it – so she applied for a Peace Corps Partnership to raise money for the building: She has raised quite a bit of money already, and the community is contributing 25% of the total funds, but we still need to raise a little under $4,000. We would really like to have the money raised by January so construction of the building can begin during the cool, dry season, and be done before the start of the rainy season. Check out the website and let me know what you think of it! Part of what I want to do through this Peace Corps Partnership and building is not just to raise the money itself, but to create an ongoing relationship between people in the States and people in Kayemor, so everyone involved can learn and grow.
On another note related to food security, Peace Corps Senegal and USAID are working together on a new project focused on food security in Senegal, which will helpfully pull together the benefits of Peace Corps’ grassroots focus with the additional funding USAID can provide. I don’t know a whole lot about it right now, but as things develop I will do my best to post updates as I learn about them. For right now, check out this article from The Economist:

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