Senegal: Building seed banks to build resilience

Published: 16 September 2013 11:50 CET

By Maya Helwani, IFRC

According to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), the effects of the 2012 drought on food security in the Sahel region are ongoing. This year, it is estimated that 10.3 million people and more than 1.4 million children are facing severe and acute malnutrition in the region. Even if the rains and harvest are good this year, the most vulnerable households will benefit little, as the 2012 food crisis further damaged the already precarious situation that families find themselves in.

The Senegalese Red Cross Society, in coordination with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), launched an emergency appeal in 2012 to address the immediate food security needs of close to 62,500 people across the country. Activities included the distribution of food, seeds, tools and fertilizer, as well as cash.

To help rebuild community resilience, the Red Cross also provided support to build five seed banks in three regions. This was paired with the provision of 10 tonnes of certified seeds for each bank, which are distributed to communities and reach up to 27 surrounding villages in each location. Beneficiaries who have already received seeds will reimburse the seed banks with a surplus of even more seeds, which will, in turn, be distributed to other households and to even more communities.

The seed banks are owned and managed by the communities. Local municipalities donated the land on which the banks now stand. Material and supervision was provided by the Senegalese Red Cross Society, while the communities contributed by providing sand, water and labour.

“The success of the seed bank project depends on the appropriation of the activity by the community,” says Mamadou Sonko, Secretary General of the Senegalese Red Cross Society. “We have similarly involved the communities in other projects and found that people are more satisfied when they are included. They have the space to voice their needs and concerns, and are willing to contribute in the long term when they’re involved from the beginning.”

“Each household benefiting from seeds this year will reimburse the bank with even more seeds next season,” says Amadou Barowat, president of the community commission in Gouloumbou, Tambacounda, one of the regions to receive a seed bank. “Those seeds will serve to help even more people and more surrounding villages in the next season.”

While imperative to meet the immediate food needs of hungry families, a key component of any of Red Cross initiative is to build resilience among communities, so they are more quickly able to rebound from weather-related events.

Momodou Camara lives in the region of Tambacounda in eastern Senegal and received peanut seeds from the seed bank. “These seeds are going to give my family a good harvest for the next few years,” said Camara. “They will help ensure that we have enough to eat and it’s all thanks to the Red Cross.”