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May 17, 2008

Seed handouts not as helpful as hoped

Analysts participating in a recently held international meeting of agriculture and development experts in Norwegian capital Oslo have called for alternatives to ’seed aid,’ mass handouts of seeds to crisis-stricken African farmers.

The analysts believe that help through seed handouts has not been successful in meeting the needs of local communities to date.

Louise Sperling, a Rome-based analyst at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, said that seed handouts might in fact undermine the recovery of farming markets. She pointed out that farmers just might develop a tendency to continue accepting handouts long after they should have been able to make themselves self-sufficient.

Sperling and her colleagues wrote in their study report that they examined the seed aid given to 15 African countries dating back to 1974, and found that the international community had spent huge amounts of money on seed handouts for crops such as maize (corn).

The analysts said that though seed aid accounted for only two to three per cent of the amount spent on direct food aid, the amount spent on seeds run to hundreds of millions of dollars.

“When seed aid started it was seen as something very innovative. Instead of giving food and making people (feel like) victims, you give them seed and empower them,” Nature magazine quoted Sperling as saying.

“Very often seed availability is not the problem. Farmers don’t have the cash to access it, so social networks break down,” she said.

Sperling further said: “One of the big things we have learned is that you can have big drops in food; for example 95 per cent of your sorghum harvest might fail, but with five per cent left you still have enough for seed.”

The Norwegian Government has issued a white paper calling for a revision of its international food aid strategy. The meeting in Oslo is the first sign that European governments are beginning to follow suit.

“We are hoping Norway will bring this to the attention of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the European Union,” says Sigrid Nagoda, a Norwegian spokesperson for international aid agency Caritas, which jointly sponsored the meeting.

ThaiIndian News

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