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Concern’s Alex Tsakiridis illustrates the impact that a simple seed fair can have on a community seeking to recover from the trauma of civil conflict in Central African Republic (CAR).
It was a first for the region and the surrounding villages, and it showed. The women wore their most joyful earrings and yoghurt merchants from across the district eagerly collected to sell their products to the crowds. This, the premier seed fair held in the village of Boukanga back in April, was indeed a major event for the community.
Attracting a crowd of almost 800 people, the fair targeted the most vulnerable farmers of the area. On entering the fair – which was organised by the local Village Relief Committees and the Concern team – each farmer was given two hoes and vouchers which they could use to buy seeds of their choice from approved vendors. Prior to the fair, a local team had been selected to carefully identify who in their community was most in need of support. It is perhaps appropriate that the name for the programme is ‘Maingo ti e’, meaning ‘our development’ in sango, the vernacular language of the Central African Republic (CAR). This community really is driving its own recovery.
According to the locals, the fair was a vital tool not only for reviving the farming activities but also community spirit – it is remembered in the area as a joyous social event. And nowhere in the world is there more need for joy than CAR – a country whose people have been terrorised and uprooted by brutal civil conflict that has gone on for four years now. Everyone agreed that April couldn’t have been a better month for it to take place. "It was the best time to have the fair," explains Gilbert Kotti, President of the Bogban Village Relief Committee which helped to organise the event. Why? Because April is the month when corn, beans and peanuts are sown.
As in many communities across the country, the conflict which erupted in CAR in 2013 left households here impoverished, granaries burnt and families broken. Agricultural stores were lost in the wake of the conflict, and only now do affected communities in this area finally have an opportunity to repair certain aspects of their daily lives – their farms included.
Seed distribution is not only good for the farmers who receive them or the local vendors that have been selected to participate in the fair – the impacts that go well beyond the limits of a single village. Fairs allow for seed diversification, which in turn allows farmers to be protected from climate stress. At the same time, the participation of both the supply and demand sides, contribute to the restructuring of the local economy in two ways: the suppliers can often sell their products at a slightly higher price than the one found in local markets, and the diverse array of crops that grow from the seeds allow subsistence farmers to become producers. The effect on the area’s recovery is clear.
Under the shadow of a tree to take a break from the sun, Gilbert tells us how his village came to help itself – essentially by working together. 30 to 40 people formed groups that worked together to prepare each community member’s field – similar to the traditional Irish meitheal system. This system of mutual support was also reflected in the ‘community fields’ – collective plots where villagers cultivate the fields of their more vulnerable neighbours who are not able to work the land themselves. This solidarity reflects the nessecity of interdependence in a country like CAR, but also supports the cohesion between the villages of the region, despite the troubles they often face.
Concern is present in this context every day, a fact that is reflected in the strong relationship between our programme team and the people of the region. This relationship allows for the quick resolution of any tensions that may arise. In the aftermath of the now renowned seed fair back in April, the Village Committee welcomes and shakes the hands of the Concern team members, offering them thanks and congratulations. Appreciation is also shown by the villagers who wave hello to the Concern cars and motorbikes that pass by. Concern’s presence does not replace local or state institutions, but rather complements the processes already in place to rebuild the rich lands of the Central African Republic. It is these village committees which, with the support of the humanitarian teams, will be monitoring the crops and the harvest. It is Gilbert and his colleagues working hand in hand that will allow the members of their families and their community to prosper.
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