Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quick Update!

Hello from Canada!
Many of you are probably surprised Im in Canada- and I will explain later. Aside from some culture shock and exhausting travel - I am enjoying my time here meeting with seed savers, attending seedy saturdays, and exploring a life drastically different from where Ive been.

I have loaded all my Ethiopia Pictures onto flickr and roughly organized them.
Visit this link to view them by sets
or go to this link to view all

Im sorry there are so many pics. Hopefully soon I will pick the best and feature them somehow.

Also, soon I hope to type a summary of my Ethiopian extravaganza. It was a month filled with crop diversity, cultural diversity, passionate farmers, skipping with children, some vomiting, and plenty of good laughs with fellow seed savers. I was challenged on many levels, but left the country even more motivated, inspired, and hopeful than when I arrived. My travels and time with farmers and organizers in Ethiopia confirmed many of my conclusions Ive begun to make and brought them to the next level.

All year I have been pondering the deep connections between culture and crop diversity. Each region Ive been to has shown me how crucial it is to protect and develop the tradtional knowledge associated with these crop varieties. In many ways we are doing an excellent job collecting and storing seeds for later research and use (email me if you want any information about gene banks). However, I have become incredibly passionate about the need to keep these seeds a part of the cultures they are linked to. Through my 120 plus interviews and 8 months of travels I have seen that diversity in crops is directly linked with health and diversity of human cultures. The crops and their resilient seeds have co-evolved with the cultures and eco-systems of their respective regions. It appears to me that the traditional dishes which farmers (women) prepare for ssustenance are directly linked not only to balanced nutrition, but also what can grow well in their region with little inputs!

There is a critical link between nature and culture. When we lose crop varieties from a region - this is not just a biological loss, but a loss of cultural systems, human livelihood, and farmers freedom. We lose not just an inventory of plant materials or genes, but an incredible storehouse of knowledge of how to grow and use the plants. This cultural knowledge which has been developed and adapted over thousands of years is crucial to our survival in the future, especially with climate change looming. The worlds traditional farmers (who have stayed resilient to monoculture and a specific western view of development) hold the key not only to impressive plants and cool seeds - but the diverse knowledge which goes along with these seeds. This knowledge comes as a result of generations of men and women experimenting, selecting crops for their diverse needs, building on the knoweledge on their forefathers, and passing the skils to their children. Each farming family has diverse criteria they use each day to determine how to spread their risk, produce enough food on marginal conditions, and satisfy local demand for alcohol, tasty food, fast cooking, etc. The diverse criteria produces a broad range of crop diversity and an infinite amount of knowlege on local agricultural systems.

Nowhere during this year have farmers been saving seeds and crop diversity solely for economic purposes. Yes, the seeds require much less input and less money than modern high input varieties. However, they are also always tied to complex social, religious, and cultural systems. Ethiopia brought this issue to the forefront of my mind as I watched many traditional dances, took part in coffe ceremonies, tried to learn a local song about teff, and observed the beauty of these rural villages.

We cannot succesfully preserve the genetic diversity of crops withouth preserving the local knowledge and culture which surrounds these crops - how they are planted, saved, stored, cooked, etc.

Ethiopian farmers blew me away traditional agricultural practices and complex local seed systems. In a country where nearly 90% of the population are farmers, agriculture is the central part of life. Much of the science world has disregarded farmers knowledge as "backwards," "traditional" or simply "worthless." This approach confuses me to no end. The power of farmers ancient knowledge can be seen quite evidently in an Ethiopian highland field with its extremely infertile, dry rocky soil that is filled with a diversity of colorful crops satisfying families nutritional, economic, gastronomic, alcoholic, and spiritual needs. In the USA we are trained to see the soil of the Ethiopian highlands and say it is too dry, infertile or not arable. However, farmers have grown on these lands for thousands of years with little inputs. The farmers are usually able to produce an abundance of food on small plots of land - which is highly nutritious, used in various local alcohols, sold in the market, prepared in ceremonies, annd much more.

Even during massive droughts, erosion, and climactic chaos farmers have adapted their systems and their crops to deal with these challeneges. Varieties are continually selected for their ability to withstand extreme drought and weather changes. Farmers plant a diversity of crops and varieties over a range of soil and/or climactic conditions. The farmers spread their risk through an intricate system of seed selection, saving, exchange, and even experimentation. The farmers continue to grow and protect this diversity as a risk prevention strategy. Many tried the new hybrid varieties and saw they couldnt fit in to their system - they yield less in stressed conditions, produce poor straw for the animals, and dont grow well in mixed crop systems. Many women also raved to me about the excellent taste of their special variety in various cultural dishes and insisted on preparing these incredible meals for me (new varieties were often criticized for their taste or long cooking time). Even in the most extreme area of drought and hunger - people still value taste, nutrition, cultural dishes, ceremonial food prepartions, and the diverse values of their food crops.

Ethiopia showed me once again how important diversity and seed saving is not just for survival, but also for community sufficiency and the enjoyment of life.

A major lesson I took from Ethiopia, which I will expound on more later, is the importance of linking the formal and informal seed sectors. Ethiopia is known around the world for the sucess it has had in linking its formal National Gene Bank with many local community seed banks and in-situ conservation in farmers fields. I got to spend time with Dr. Melaku Worede, the founder of the national gene bank, Seeds of Survival, and much more. Dr. Melaku first pushed the idea of the importance of incorporating farmers into "genetic diversity conservation". For years he was ridiculed in the science community and accused of going backwards or being too idealistic. However, his ideas have now enetered the main stream and thousands around the world are learning from Ethiopias system of community seed banks. The Ethiopian government now supprts much of Dr. Melaku's work and is beginning to promote community seed banks throughout the country. Farmers have finally been recognized as essential to preserving diversity in the fields. Seeds have been sucessfully reintroduced and multiplied from the gene bank and even from other gene banks abroad.

No one in the Ethiopian Seed movement is saying we must keep these traditional crops static. The seeds of landraces are collected and stored in secure facilites. However, scientists from NGO's and the National Gene Bank have been working collaboratively with farmers to select and improve varieties to meet farmers diverse needs. The knowledge of many farmers is recorded and then is enhanced with modern scientific knowledge of plant selection and breeding. These efforts have been called "Participatory Plant Breeding" or "Participaty Variety Selection." I promise I will write more on these incredible efforts soon. One amazaing group, Ethio-Organic Seed Actionh (EOSA) is behind much of this work in recent years. They are currently developing a model community seed bank, enhancing landrace varietes, and training many farmers around the coutnry. Their work is focused on protecting Ethiopias incredible agricultural heritage while slightly enhancing it with modern techniques.

Anyway, it is late now and I have rambled for long enough. For the time being I have given up on organized blog entries and will continue to post these incoherent rants. Keep checking for some more succint, sane posts in the future. I cant explain why I am in this strange writers block. Perhaps it is because of my culture shock here in Canada (I have so many questions constantly circulating in my mind as I try to apply all the lessons Ive learned to the seed saving scene here).
My mind is filled with concrete answers, but also concrete questions which have no one answer. I want to somehow download all Ive seen and felt to all of you - but it is impossible. Even the pictures to not do it justice. Hopefully, I will find a way to give you all a taste of this ridiculous journey and research

A big thanks to all the farmers of Ethiopia who taught me so much. They continue to protect an immense amount of seeds and knowledge which are crucial to our survival. I cant say thank them enough for all the hope, ideas, delicious meals, and seeds they have bestowed upon me.


Anonymous said...

Helping to grow food when there is no rain!

Paul Polak's new book: Out of Poverty
Out of Poverty, a book everyone should read!

Everything Paul proposes about getting small acreage farmers of 1-5 acres out of poverty is premised on them using DRIP IRRIGATION as a means of growing food to sell at a profit.

Paul's thoughts on poverty.

"I have no doubt that the most important low-cost, high-leverage solution to the complex issue of poverty is helping poor people increase their income."

Paul Pokak states that "early market demand suggests that the global demand for low cost drip systems will reach at least 10 million families, increasing their net annual income by $1 billion a year"

He also states that "there are 8 million or more small-acreage farmers in Africa who use buckets to carry water to their crops from streams or ponds."

Chapin Living Waters has the technology! See their website:
for information on their "BUCKET KITS", now used in over 150 countries.

Posted by Richard Dassow at 12:49 PM 0 comments
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Dr. Williams from New Directions just returned from a 3 week trip to Ghana, Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya. This was his annual agriculture trip and in each country either set up or expanded Chapin Living Water's 1/4 Acre Kits. Pictures at

Victor U. Mbalewe, founder and Executive Director of Food Security Network of Nigeria visitied Chapin Living Waters and took back 50 Bucket Kits to get his project started.

House of Hope of Sierra Leone, West Africa. Three bucket kits are on thier way or should have arrived at House of Hope, a new pilot project being started.

More on these 3 new projects can be found at
Posted by Richard Dassow at 2:47 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Richard is working with:

What's happening around the world now:

Anyone who can translate French for me?
Working with French speaking person in Africa!

Chapin Living Waters exists to help poor people in third world countries grow vegetables when there is insufficient rain. They offer simple, sustainable technologies for subsistence farming, bringing hope to the poorest people and the opportunity to solve their own problems. Their simple “Bucket Kit” can be a tool for outreach and church planting. Check it out at...

They serve development groups, relief organizations, and mission groups working with people in third world countries. Their "Bucket Kits", consisting of 100 feet of drip hose, fittings and connecting tubing, are ideal for poor families in communities where running water and pumps are not available. The family connects the kit to a 5-gallon bucket elevated at least 1 meter above the ground, and fills the bucket with water twice daily. This simple, inexpensive, gravity fed system will provide enough moisture for a vegetable garden large enough to feed a small family during periods when there is absolutely no rainfall.

If you are a business person, pastor, missionary, or NGO, and you feel you can use this technology, please contact Dick to obtain a bucket kit to be used as a tool for outreach. Find them on the web at

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