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Even for funeral rites, seed plays a critical role. In Gulu district in Northern Uganda, a ritual called yokopoto is performed for a deceased relative before people go back into their gardens. Alcohol is brewed from local seeds and special local foods are cooked for a ceremony that ensures everyone is well-fed and happy. Farmers describe local seed in terms that show how it serves as a mobilizing force for all age and gender categories in the community. It is through the propitiatory rites that the social group expresses its communion for the advent of a favourable rainy season.

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An octogenarian in the village of Bounkiking explained how agricultural traditions are followed after the clearing of the fields: "There is, in the compound, a specific place reserved for women to pound the millet seeds for sowing. A girl carries the calabash containing the crushed seeds out to the field, remaining silent all the way. The head of the household deposits the calabash on the ground, and he alone is entitled to throw the first seed. It should be noted that the seeds are spiritually charged with incantations, holy water and plant powder that provide a lot of fruit. The first seed in the field is preferably sown at night: "Nocturnal sowing helps to realize the agricultural predictions," says a farmer at Ngueye Ngueye.

In the Hal Pulaar ethnic group, the sowing of millet is undertaken on Saturdays, when the water level drops, linked to the nineteenth and twentieth days of the lunar cycle.. The seeds are given to the wife, who purifies them with bovine urine before spreading them on a white loincloth. Pumpkin seeds are wrapped in cow dung before being sun-dried for sowing in water during a flood. They will germinate when the level of water drops.

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This is why they play a central role in the ritual preparation of local seeds. The sacredness of the sowing is such that wearing shoes is forbidden in the rice fields. Displays of negative emotion, such as disputes or quarrels, are also prohibited. Nowadays, the spiritual relationship with the earth presents has been altered: "Before, the relationship between the farmer and the land was direct. Now, the mediator of mechanization causes the earth to be deprived of the human emotional charge that was formerly bestowed," said a fifty-year-old Soose Mandingo.

Similarly, a Hal Pulaar expressed his feelings in these terms: "Manual labour is essential if one is to establish bodily and human contact with the field. The animal parts used include squirrel skulls, guineafowl, partridge eggs, hawk crests and so on.

Children are invited to beat drums to deter pests from venturing into the cultivated lands. Bird tamers are using birds to keep others of the same species away from the fields. There is not a single system that works everywhere. The strength of farmer-managed systems lies in their diversity, and this is what ultimately ensures food security and food sovereignty, especially as climate change and other threats bear down on us. Farmers across the six countries listed the many crops they produce and demonstrated their depth of knowledge of each: how seeds should be selected, saved and preserved, when they should be planted, and which varieties are best suited to different environmental conditions.

The reports confirmed that farmers still produce and save most of the seeds and other planting materials they need across the whole spectrum of their crops: grains such as maize, sorghum, rice, millet and teff; roots and tubers such as cassava and sweet potato; legumes such as beans, cow peas and groundnuts; and vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, okra, and lettuce. In some countries, diverse populations of root crops, plantains, bananas and enset Ensete ventricosum , also known as false banana are also maintained.

The respondents reaffirmed their desire to keep a broad diversity of varieties and crops in their fields. They want support for their ecologically diverse cropping systems, which are better able to cope with changing weather patterns although not all extreme weather can be withstood.

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They also recognised that breeding in new traits from varieties introduced by extension agents, NGOs or others can help them adapt their seeds to new demands. As women, we have expertly selected crops with a wide range of characteristics to meet various needs, from yield to disease resistance, from taste to post-harvest use, from ease of cooking to storage. The respondents described their seed selection processes: how and when they select seeds and what criteria they use, so as to ensure an adequate supply of quality seeds for the next planting season.

Seed selection skills are typically passed down from generation to generation, often from women seed savers to their daughters and granddaughters. A typical example is rapoko finger millet varieties that have been selected and reused for centuries in Zimbabwe. Some respondents stated that maize selection criteria include selecting healthy, pest-free cobs and cobs with large grains.

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For sorghum and millet, seeds are selected from robust, fully mature spikes or panicles showing no signs of disease that have bred true to the variety sown. Others mentioned that the important thing is to select seeds from healthy, strong, high-yielding plants to be preserved for sowing in the following season. When selecting pumpkin, we select based on the taste of the pumpkin and even just by looking.

For example, if the pumpkin is sweet, we keep the seed for planting next season.

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For groundnuts, we save the big nuts and the small nuts are used for cooking. Some of these farmers also related how different seeds from the same maize cob may have different characteristics. The seed from the tip of the cob is used for early maturity, the middle part is used for medium maturity and the bottom is used for late maturity.

Maintaining the quality of their seeds was also a common priority, as articulated by a Senegalese farmer. This is why farmers have learned to avoid sowing near the hybrid seeds they use. Seeds of some crops will keep for years if carefully conserved in household stores or community seed banks. Other seeds are only kept until the next planting season.

Seed storage and location is determined by the type of crop and the space available in the farmer's home. Seeds can be stored in the kitchen or on the roof, while some farmers use their living rooms as the main storage space. Preserving seeds after harvest is a challenge for all farmers. Saved seeds are no exception and require special attention. The respondents confirmed that they store their seeds more securely than other grains, protecting them against moisture, pests insects and rodents and diseases, so that they will germinate well and grow into healthy crops.

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Across the six countries, they described individual and collective seed storage practices: how they prepare the seeds for storage, the containers they use, where they keep them, and how they protect the seeds against pests and other damage. Selected seeds or seed heads face the same hazards as grain crops, since both are often harvested at high moisture content, making them rot- and insect-prone.

The Zambian respondents reported that they dry their selected seeds either in the field or at home, some e. The respondents described their use of a wide range of seed storage containers.

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Some said the best of these are hermetically closed jars or barrels; others use sacks or polythene bags, bottles and calabash gourds, silos, big pots or drums. The household kitchen emerged as a very common seed storage location. Women hang seeds from the kitchen ceiling, often amid the smoke from the wood- or charcoal-fired cooking stove, which keeps seeds dry and insect and rodent pests away. Saved seeds in storage are susceptible to insect and rodent pest damage. The farmers interviewed shared their traditional pest management techniques, which involve both physical barriers and traditional additives.

The Malian respondents listed several traditional local preservation methods centring around the use of local plant-based materials, including tomichina, wangaraboubel Cassia nigricans , powder made from the leaves of Boscia senegalensis, ash or sand, leaves of kaniba, denbagnouma a peanut variety , wouloudiologo, niokorodialani, pepper, neem leaves, djanadjarou, grape oil, prune tree ash, wild grape, and Balanites spp. Famers in Zimbabwe explained that they know which crop varieties and plants are not attacked by pests, and use those plants as additives to stored seeds that are susceptible to pest attack.

Farmers in Ethiopia know how to store seeds under different conditions, depending on their respective characteristics. Farmers mix in some teff to minimize rodent damage. Seeds of sorghum may be stored underground in spaces protected with cow dung and the smoke of a particular plant. Many respondents reported that they infrequently use chemical seed treatment for reasons of cost, availability and their health. Crops harvested in shells, such as ground nuts, round nuts and cowpeas, are often stored in the shell for better protection. Storage problems are also a contributory factor to the decision on whether to save or buy seeds.

In Uganda, some farmers are now purchasing seeds from the market because they are unable to prevent pest and disease infestation until planting time. Farmers in Gulu district, for example, find that their beans and maize are easily ruined by weevils, while their groundnuts and sorghum have to be carefully protected against rats. Farmers may fear that their saved seeds will be destroyed before they can be planted, and ultimately decide to eat them instead. As well, when seeds are kept in the house, smallholders may be more tempted to eat them as food during times of scarcity.

Most farmers are looking to improve their seed storage using indigenous methods. They would prefer not to copy the few who plant hybrid seeds and use chemical methods of pest control e. Farmers without money can have seeds to grow and feed their families. Some Ugandan smallholders said that they borrow seeds from their neighbours or get free seeds from friends and relatives though seed exchange.

The Uganda report revealed that some communities have designated seed custodians, people in the community whose job is to save seed; for instance, those who keep maize are called mawalampa. These seed keepers, often prominent farmers, will sell, exchange or share the seed with smallholders when the planting season arrives. Seeds are exchanged mostly within the local community, but they may also be exchanged with farmers from other districts, increasing the number of local varieties available.

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Some seeds are maintained by elderly people who specialize in growing a particular variety, but in such cases quantities are small and they may not be able to supply the whole village. The Uganda report also indicated that farmers feel very free to access seeds in their communities, with no laws hindering them from doing so. So you see how we are free to get seeds here in our village.

Seeds in Uganda are often exchanged by private arrangement between two parties. If a household lacks seeds, it may borrow some from others, especially relatives and friends, and pay it back after the harvest. The Uganda report also found that there are existing seed sharing networks between farmers in different districts.

Seed is exchanged mostly on market days, at seed fairs — often supported by NGOs — and at meetings.

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In addition to exchanging seeds, the farmers also share information and knowledge on how to manage local seeds, thus building their capacity in local seed management. Small-scale farmers also mentioned some organisations that are doing outreach with smallholder farmers, offering them creating opportunities to network and to share seeds and corresponding indigenous knowledge.

This is killing the farmer-managed seed system. The district officials and NGO staff interviewed noted that smallholders are exchanging seeds with other households and farmer groups and at social gatherings and markets. One key informant reported that seed exchange networks have been organised. Others named specific seed-saving farmers.

However, the key role of women was recognised, along with the perception that young people are moving away from seed saving, as they associate agribusiness inputs with modernity. Youth are not interested in seed keeping because they want to buy from the shop. The research confirmed that different members of the community play different roles in managing seeds but it is evident that women play a predominant role. Women largely manage seed diversity, preservation and use, including seed selection, storage, and deciding which varieties to plant, when and how much to sow based on the weather.

Having identified which crop varieties should be selected for seed and food, women expertly select seeds with a wide range of characteristics to meet various needs, from yield to disease resistance, from taste to post-harvest use, and from ease of cooking to storage. Women creatively and knowledgeably prepare quality food by mixing different crops and varieties.