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Lessons learned

The FAO guidelines for seed fairs (Annex 2) are instrumental in organizing seed fairs, especially when it is a village's first experience of such an event, as was the case in these four villages. Farmers expect the organizers to be knowledgeable and to take a leading role, particularly in the introductory phases.

For farmers and local people

Many farmers in and around the study area are not aware of all the crop diversity and local knowledge that exists in their communities. Seed fairs provide a learning platform for local people. For example, some farmers mentioned seeing crop varieties that they thought were extinct in their villages. Young people commented with surprise on the wide range of varieties and technologies that existed in their local environments. They were particularly interested in the use of ethnobotanicals for the storage of cereals and legumes, and the processing of cooking oil from watermelons, pumpkins and sponge gourd seeds. A specially prepared drama about seed fairs and local knowledge proved to be an excellent way of attracting participants' attention and passing on important messages. Farmers recommended that researchers produce information leaflets on local seed management and other practices for distribution among community members.

Women farmers and their pumpkins (R.Laub)

Seed fairs include displays of equipment for seed and food preparation and processing, such as tools for oil extraction, storage, farming and decoration. In one village, farmers also demonstrated recipes using different varieties, such as local wine from both local and improved varieties of sorghum. Demonstrations of oil extraction from pumpkin seed and sunflower showed what a tiresome process it is for the women who do it, involving extracting the seeds from the fruits, sun-drying and stone-grinding the seeds, boiling to separate the oil from the flesh, and leaving the product to settle.

Farmers used the seed fairs as an opportunity for sharing experiences among themselves and with younger generations and development workers. Seed fairs also allowed farmers to exchange seed through barter and to market their products and seeds.

Some farmers, especially those who were involved in the seed study, commented on other farmers' lack of interest in the seed fair prior to the event. Some also expressed concern about seed fair participants displaying items such as pottery and local minerals, which they felt were out of place at a seed fair.

Farmers emphasized that more efforts should be directed towards local crop landraces that thrive well in semi-arid conditions, without forgetting those collected crops that are particularly important during harsh weather. People in the village who are knowledgeable about the uses of ethnobotanicals should come forward to offer their valuable advice regarding the storage of food grains and seeds.

Farmers regarded the awards as being the apex of the seed fairs and the motivation for taking part in the future.

For extensionists and researchers

The seed fairs gave crop researchers the opportunity to interact with different types of farmer and to learn more about seed diversity; for many research team members, the fairs were the first time that they had seen rare varieties that cannot be collected easily, such as a central zone strain of sorghum whose local name is Mpatapata. Traditions associated with certain crops and varieties can be recorded easily during a seed fair, and seed fairs can also be used as a means of triangulating village agrobiodiversity or variety data. For example, local varieties that are not displayed can be assumed to be lost. The research team noted that more local seeds than improved varieties were displayed at the seed fairs and that much of the study communities' crop diversity and local knowledge has not yet been documented.

Display of rare sorghum and millet varieties (R.Laub)

The seed fairs emphasized the close links between agro-biodiversity and ethnobotanicals, such as neem tree leaves, saka and Mtumba. Ethnobotanicals are becoming valuable marketable products for the farming community, and farmers need support in developing the capacity to process, pack and label them as part of the commercialization process.

It was interesting to note that wild varieties of finger millet, rice and sorghum were displayed. These have a role to play in food security, and farmers explained their value, especially during extreme droughts when common food crops fail. Farmers also commented that a wide range of collected crops, green vegetables (e.g. Milenda), wild fruits (e.g. lade) and neglected crops such as local pulses (e.g. maharage makubwa,) or cucurbitaceous are important to the food security of farming communities in semi-arid areas.

Collected food plants (R.Laub)

In addition, the seed fairs demonstrated that semi-arid areas have the potential to produce oilseeds (moringa, cotton, pumpkins, sunflower, sponge gourds, castor oil, watermelons, safflower and others), which thrive well in these regions.

Regarding the organization of future seed fairs, it is important that the farmers who participate in research should take a leading role; however, all other stakeholders should also be involved, including policy-makers at different levels. Successful seed fairs require at least a month of preparation, including sensitization meetings and publicity. Village leaders, research farmer groups and extension officers are well-placed for spreading the word about the coming event, and the exact numbers of farmers' displays should be known two days before the seed fair.

During the event itself, all official guests should be in attendance throughout the whole day; for example, farmers in one village had prepared local foods and drinks to share with all guests and other attendees. For the future, it was suggested that a receptionist be appointed to greet official guests and provide them with name labels. Food vendors and entertainment troupes should also be organized to keep the event "alive".

For officials

Seed fairs are an eye-opener for policy-makers and politicians regarding the wealth of local knowledge. Official guests at the seed fairs showed considerable interest in the local biodiversity and products on display, and did much to draw the visiting media's attention to the concepts behind the events. During their speeches, some officials undertook to promote the holding of seed fairs in the future. Farmers commented that such interest is encouraging to them. They would like to see gifts and certificates for future shows, as well as recognition from the influential people who attend them. Farmers particularly appreciated the purchases of seeds, ethnobotanicals and other valuable materials that were made by visiting officials, and would like to encourage more of these in the future. In the central zone, the lack of an official closing ceremony was seen as beneficial, because once an event has been declared closed everybody disperses, discouraging latecomers from benefiting from the fairs.

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