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Transforming a traditional commons-based seed system through collaborative networks of farmer seed-cooperatives and public breeding programs: the case of sorghum in Mali

, Eva Weltzien, Mamourou Sidibé, Abdoulaye Diallo, Bocar Diallo, Kirsten Vom Brocke, Baloua Nebié, Aboubacar Touré, Yalaly Traoré, Amadou Sidibé,
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Published: 19 October 2020

Abstract: Malian farmers’ traditional system for managing seed of sorghum, an indigenous crop of vital importance for food security and survival, can be conceptualized as a commons. Although this system maintains a wide range of varieties and helps ensure access to seed, its ability to create and widely disseminate new varieties to meet evolving opportunities and challenges is limited. A network of farmer groups, public breeding programs, and development organizations collaborating in decentralized creation and dissemination of sorghum varieties in Mali is examined regarding (1) how the network developed and what activities it conducts; (2) the resulting varietal diversity, varietal performance and organizational models; and (3) the elements of the traditional seed system that were maintained, strengthened or transformed. A single-case study approach was used that relies on published literature, official catalogues of released varieties and a database of farmer seed-cooperative requests for foundation seed. The functioning of the network and its varietal-, seed-, and organizational- outcomes are documented and the elements of the traditional sorghum seed system that are maintained or strengthened are analyzed. The evolution of the network’s reliance on commoning as a social process and its strengthening of core Seed Commons features are discussed with a view to the network’s contributions to targeted development outcomes and potential replicability. The case demonstrates how creating a framework for collaboration, enabling actors and organizations to take on collective responsibility while maintaining distributed decision-making at local level, opens opportunities for transforming farming- and food-systems towards sustainability and resilience.
Keywords: Commons / Commoning / Seed systems / Plant breeding / Farmer cooperatives / Mali

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