Eden Foundation

Eden Foundation

Founded 1985 in Sweden
Active in Tanout, Niger, since 1987

What is direct seeding, and why do it?

Farmers in the Sahel need a reliable food supply from their fields. They also need enough water to drink and for other domestic needs. Eden saw these goals being compromised by the environmental degradation that is taking place in the Sahel. This can clearly be seen in the district where Eden's field station is situated. Here, land is cleared in order to grow annual crops. The other plants are considered to be in the way of the annuals and are therefore cut down or uprooted. Overgrazing by livestock and excess firewood collection also contribute to this degradation.

In Eden's view, the environment can best be stabilised by farmers themselves direct seeding drought tolerant perennial plants which they can use for food. Direct seeding is the sowing of seeds directly in the soil, by-passing the need for nurseries and irrigation. This fulfils two goals the farmers have in mind, namely to produce food and to do this economically by conserving water, nutrients, etc. Plant nurseries by comparison, require watering, plastic sacs (which are expensive for the farmers and pollute the environment), transport of the seedlings to planting sites and labour to look after the seedlings. Direct seeded perennials tend to produce an extensive root system rapidly whereas the shoots grow more slowly, but seedlings raised in nurseries tend to produce large shoots which give greater evaporation and the roots soon become cramped in the plastic sacks. This means that direct seeded plants are more likely to be able to reach moisture remaining in the soil after the rainy season has ended than those raised in plant nurseries because of their more extensive root system. They are therefore better able to tolerate drought.

Direct seeding makes it possible to introduce perennials on a large scale, even into isolated areas. This is because it can be done where water is not readily accessible. The villagers at Dalli (the village adjacent to the field station) will go about 5 km for water during the dry season. The wells closer to the village dry out and farmers will queue up in the evening, sleeping next to the wells in order to get the water that seeps through during the night. Nurseries would exhaust the limited water resources even further, so the farmers at Dalli don't even consider nurseries a possibility. They have been given nursery plants from other projects before, but the farmers say these plants die at the end of the rainy season unlike the plants they have direct seeded. Now they say that they don't believe in nursery plants anymore even when other projects having access to adequate water supply give them the plants.

Direct seeding is inexpensive compared with other methods, especially when it is carried out by farmers themselves. Perennials provide a permanent vegetation cover and annuals can be intercropped. Perennials have the distinct advantage of providing food in drought years when the annual crops fail.

Which species are interesting?

Eden is interested in edible herbs, shrubs and trees that can grow under hot desert conditions where the average annual rainfall is <250 mm. In order for seeds of a species to be made available to farmers it must first be screened through a direct seeding test at Eden's field station.

Does direct seeding work?

See work accomplished.

Species which have been established at Eden's field station are very likely to perform even better in locations further south where the rainfall is higher, making Eden's research applicable to other areas of Niger, Sahel and other hot & dry areas of the world.

Have farmers direct seeded?

See work accomplished.

Why do farmers want to direct seed?

Whenever farmers order seeds, Eden asks them why they want to direct seed a particular species. The majority of orders are for food and/or environmental stabilisation. Other reasons are medicine, fertiliser, forage, economical, etc.

Do the farmers see the need to direct seed?

In Eden's view farmers don't need to be "educated" nor be given financial incentives in order to find out if direct seeding of perennials on their land is beneficial to them. Farmers from Dalli could see for themselves that the millet seedlings sheltered by the field station survived better, became taller and produced a higher yield than those sown further away. So they drew the conclusion that it was beneficial for them to direct seed perennials in their fields.

Do farmers get paid for doing it?

Eden doesn't provide economic incentives for direct seeding. The farmers have sown on their own initiative. They have invested their labour and land to cultivate the perennials and will receive as their "salary" human food and an environment which is better protected from the harsh conditions. Several of the species they sowed have a direct economic value, their fruits are sold in town markets, so any surplus can be used to generate income for the purchase of other necessities. Perennials provide organic fertiliser from leaf fall and nitrogen from nitrogen fixing species. These species are reported to have other uses like forage, firewood, medicine, timber, dye, tannin, candle, chemicals, fibre and insecticide. The fruits from one of these species contain four times as much vitamin C as oranges.