How onions seeds grew into self-sufficiency

September 30, 2019

For many years, Sitan walked hours every day to the market in Bamako, Mali to sell agricultural goods. Her income was unreliable and the exhausting journey put her personal safety at risk.

The walk from Safo to Mali’s capital, Bamako, takes about four hours. Sitan Diarra, a small woman barely five feet tall, used to do this walk everyday, carrying goods on her head to sell at the market. At the end of the day, she’d walk back home to Safo.

Sitan wanted for a livelihood that could provide better income, without the gruelling – not to mention dangerous – trip to Bamako everyday. She had experience farming, like many of her neighbours. But in Mali, men own most agricultural plots – 86 per cent compared to 14 per cent for women. Their plots also tend to be three times larger than women’s plots. A complex set of structural and cultural gender norms contribute to the situation.

The result creates significant barriers for women farmers. With access to less land, women like Sitan have less space on which to grow the quantity of crops needed to make a good living. They also have less access to credit to invest in their farms or start a business because land is usually required as a collateral good.

It creates a vicious cycle that is only made worse by the fact that women farmers receive less support than their male counterparts, from either domestic or international sources. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, only 10 per cent of total aid for agriculture, forestry and fishing goes to women.

Without support, it can be difficult for women like Sitan to get the technical knowledge needed to make a good living from farming. They can get stuck in precarious work, like selling goods at market for very little money, simply because most skill-building training and support is geared toward men.

Our partner, Cab Demeso, bucks that trend by providing Seeds of Survival training in agroecological farming practices to farmers of all genders, with SeedChange’s support.

Sitan, anxious about her income and exhausted by her responsibilities at home and her long daily walks, decided to sign up for Cab Demeso’s organic vegetable seed production workshops

Sitan Diarra with her Violet de Galmi onion seed crop.

She was supported in deepening a coveted skill: seed production. With training, she learned how to rigorously control seed quality when growing and storing seeds, including onion seeds.

Sitan now has her own plot of land where she grows amaranth, eucalyptus and orange trees, as well as onions and forest plants for seed. On limited land, growing crops for seed requires less space and provides a higher income than growing crops as food. Cab Demeso’s training helped her become so skilled at seed production that she was part of a group of 10 training graduates who applied for official certification as producers of the Violet de Galmi onion seed, a popular variety appreciated for its taste, nutrition and storability. Seven of these graduates succeeded, including Sitan.

Today, Sitan can sell Violet de Galmi onion seeds at a premium, because her certification increases her customers confidence in her product. She takes pride in increasing seed security for farmers around her, by increasing the availability of quality organic seeds. And she likes knowing that her oranges and amaranth provide good nutrition to people around her.

Through all this, Sitan has been able to end her daily journey to Bamako.

“I have stopped because I earn much more with my seed production,” she says. She earns enough income for her needs. And she feels more confident and secure in knowing that she can provide for herself, as a farmer.

“I cannot spend a day without seeing my garden.”