The onion seed: Shifting to local seed sources

April 1, 2017

When a community builds up its ability to grow, save and sell its own seeds, it isn’t just laying the solid foundations of its local food system. It is also creating new economic opportunities for local farmers and new chances for women farmers to earn a good income.

Sitan Diarra in her onion field. (Photo: Sylvie Perras/SeedChange)

Quality seeds can be hard to come by.

In Safo, Mali, farmers had such a difficult time tracking down quality onion seeds that our partner organization, Cab Demeso, organized training on vegetable seed production for farmers in the region so they could produce their own.[1] From this group of trainees, Cab Demeso began supporting a core group of farmers who wanted to take their training to the next level: professional certified seed production.

Sitan Diarra was one of those farmers.

“I used to be a merchant for agriculture goods,” says Sitan. “I would walk every day to Bamako market, carrying my goods on my head.”

She wanted a livelihood that would provide better income, without having to travel by foot to the capital city everyday. With Cab Demeso’s support, she learned to grow Violet de Galmi onion seed, a variety well known and appreciated for its taste, nutrition and storability. The ability to grow and sell this certified variety would allow Sitan to charge a premium for her onion seeds because of consumer confidence in certified seed.

On a community level, the ability to grow and sell certified onion seed results in economic growth for farmers, improved agricultural diversity in the region, and empowered communities taking leadership roles in seed saving and distribution.

In Mali, the certification process for the Violet de Galmi onion is a government service that requires farmers seeking certification to follow a set criteria during the cultivation, harvest and storage of the onion seeds. In Sitan’s case, the Agriculture Regional Direction of Koulikoro provided in-field control of crops to measure if farmers in her community were following the cultivation criteria. LABOSEM (Mali Seed Laboratory) was responsible for post-harvest control and marketing authorization.

The end result of this process was that in 2017, 10 farmers, including three women, cultivated Violet de Galmi onions with a plan to obtain certification. Seven succeeded.

Aside from allowing individual farmers to increase their revenue, this experience enhances and supports sustainable seed security. The Safo seed producer group is now in the national register of seed producers and illustrates that they are trusted by the authorities.

With the SeedChange support, Sitan has learned how to produce onion and forest plant seeds, new knowledge that has allowed her to stop walking to Bamako everyday to sell her agriculture goods.

“I have stopped this activity because I earn much more with my seed production,” she says. Between her onion seed business and selling her production of amaranth, eucalyptus and orange trees, Sitan earns enough income for her needs.

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

[1] with the World Vegetable Center Mali (formerly called AVRDC) for 35 farmers.