OPEN SOURCE SEED SYSTEM

Existing Seeds legal framework locally and internationally continue to prioritize complete ownership of seeds by individuals. This is done through provision of intellectual property rights. This limits the freedom of farmers to save the seeds. As an organization  we have realized an ideal system in addition to farmers seed system called Open Source Seed System that encourage breeders not to patent the seeds but declare them Open Source.

This has been made possible by learning from Hivos. This ensures that seeds remain free for use with no limitation. The system enhances seeds as a public good free to all. In team of three we have been analyzing the existing legal framework to identify challenges and opportunities for Open Source Seeds in Kenya.

We have gathered views from Kephis and Gerri which have enriched our paper and deepened our understanding on the implication of the system on seed freedom. So far the paper is at a draft stage. This will be published for a free access to the public as well like-minded organizations. The findings will then be disseminated through our online platforms. This will be done after a launch where various stakeholders and farmers representatives will be invited.

As a network with farmers saving local seeds we have integrated this concept where farmers are packaging and labeling their seeds Open Source Seeds. So far this has been done for local vegetables. This is also denoting the communal ownership of the seeds which is part of their cultural heritage.

We also try to bring plant breeders and research institutions to embrace the system and declare their seeds as OSS.This will ensure that farmers are free to use the materials for multiplication, propagation and in improvement of their crops. The system promotes existence of economic justice and enhances food security through diversity.

TRAINING FARMERS ON AGRO-ECOLOGY

As the size of land decrease small scale farmers continue to apply excessive fertilizers and chemicals to increase food production. This has also been evident also in modern farming where fertigation has been developed to supply fertilizers, soil amendments and other water soluble produce to the crops through irrigation. Foliar spraying has been growing to increase the size of the produce or give it desired colour based on the consumer preferences.

However this approach requires more and more application of the inorganic inputs to increase production each time. This makes the cost of production very high which impoverish small holder farmers as the agro-companies to the bank smiling. In addition the relationship results other effects which are shouldered by the same farmer.

The farmer destroy his soil with macro/micro nutrients imbalances, development of acidity/alkalinity, killing of useful organisms, increased cost of production which minimizes his/her profits, health hazards; through inhaling/coming into contact with the chemicals, consumption of food with  bioaccumulation or drinking contaminated water.

In view of this, Seed Savers Network has embarked on training farmers the interrelationship between the environment and agricultural sustainability. We try to bridge the existing gap in raising their awareness on the implications of increased use of inorganic fertilizers and chemicals on future agriculture and generations. We have been reaching farmers through farmers’ field school, field days, farm and the media (Mulembe FM, Radio Amani and Inooro TV) to sensitize them.

We have training on farm made solutions to control pests and increase the fertility of their soils. Bio-intensive farming has also been integrated to increase production and diversity in a small portion of land. We continue to enhance use of liquid organic fertilizer that enables small scale farmers to apply it as foliar and ensure production of vegetables vertical bags and hanging gardens which also conserve water. These technologies are ideal for farmers with small pieces of land and especially for urban and peri-urban farming. Different crops can easily be intercropped in these gardens.

We encourage planting of Tithonia and comfrey at their farms for source of raw materials which we distribute to the

Extension officer showing farmers Tithonia

m during training. These crops also have additional benefits to farmers as source of fodder to livestock and fence for Tithonia and as a local vegetable for Comfrey. Farmers rearing rabbits are also encouraged to use rabbit urine in making the liquid manure.

The aim of making liquid manure is to quickly provide a crop with adequate natural plant food during the growing season. Liquid manure is ready for use after two or three weeks compared to six weeks or more for compost. The liquid manure which is made from bio-slurry or animal manures supplies nutrients fast.

When using farm yard manure, farmers are advised to mix them and put in a sack or a gunny bag. This ensures the liquid manure comprises high level of nutrients. The bag is then suspended in a bucket with clean water which is readily available at their homes. They are then guided on how to cover it using suitable material available. The farmers then wait for three weeks where they dilute it at a ratio of 1:2 (liquid manure to water) for application as a foliar or through drips to their crops.

The same concept applies for farmers with rabbits where they harvest it and ferment it for 21 days. It is well covered and farmers can dilute it at the same ratio for use. When using plants we advise them to use green and young ones. Flowering and fruiting plants has less nutrients required. Tithonia and Comfrey are the crop we use in our work as they contain high level of macro-nutrients (Nitrogen, potassium and Phosphorous).Materials are chopped and put in a bucket with water. They are covered and stirred after four days. The process continues up to 14-21 where it is diluted and applied to their crops.

FIELD GENE BANKS

Yam field gene bank at Kenyan Genetic Resource Research Institute(GeRRI)

Agro-biodiversity conservation requires different approaches to cover all floras. However to many farmers seed saving has been taken to mean literally ‘seed’ for seed producing plants. At Savers Network we have integrated field gene banks in addition to seed banks to cater for non- seed plants.

Farmers are guided to set a small section in their farm to conserve plant genetic resources for arrow roots, yams, sweet potatoes, banana, cassava etc. for availability of their planting materials. This category of crops has inherent characteristics which make them difficult for stocking in an agro-shop.

The materials are bulky, occupy large space and have less shelf life which makes them unpopular for multiplication and distribution by the commercial seed sector. This affects their availability for planting and limit crop diversity in farms. Farmers are better positioned to conserve them at their farm in form of a field gene bank to be self-reliance.

The same concept is at the core of Genetic Resource Research Institute (Gerri) which has set aside land for non-seed crops at their headquarters in Kamuguga.During our visit at the National gene bank we learnt that their Field Gene bank holds over 200 varieties of yams, arrow roots, sweet potatoes,potatoes,cassava,fruit trees and grasses. The same was evident when we visited Ugandan National Gene bank at Entebbe. They have also maintained a botanical garden dated 1898 which comprises many varieties of plants.

At our network we recognize the work done by a farmer called Joseph Gathuru. His efforts in managing and expanding his field gene bank for sweet potatoes and yams have been outstanding. He was among many farmers who got the materials from our extension officers for multiplication and establishment of field gene banks.

sweet potato vines ready for distribution

This season he graduated from self-reliance to supplier of sweet potato planting materials to other farmers in his area. When we received the call from farmers we redirected them to him to provide them with planting materials.

The Procedure for establishing a field gene bank

  • Identify the local planting materials for non-seed crops which you need to plant and conserve
  • Identify the source for its initial planting materials
  • Isolate a section in your farm (fertile and well drained) for planting them
  • Obtain the materials and plant them away from animals
  • Multiply them frequently to obtain enough quantity
  • Monitor your field gene bank to remove diseased and pest attacked crops

Always harvest them when ready and replant them for continuity