Ms Jane Wangari-a member of Mwiruti Women Group at Kariandusi in Gilgil, explains to guests how a seed bank works.

As a way of addressing challenges faced by farmers ranging from climate change and health hazards leading to low yields, several groups of farmers in Gilgil Sub County of Nakuru County have begun embracing agro-biodiversity.

Agro-biodiversity is the result of natural selection processes and the careful selection and inventive developments of farmers, herders and fishers over millennia. But in Gilgil, the groups of women farmers have focused on community seed systems and seed access after receiving training from Gilgil based Seed Savers Network.

And with the many challenges that have faced farmers in the past leading to low yields and loss to farmers, these groups of women believe that seed systems and seed access is the only solution to food insecurity in the country. The groups include Makongo Farmers’ Network, Diatomite Budget Women’s Group and Mwiruti Women Group.

The Gilgil-based farmers’ groups are now focusing on agro-biodiversity by ensuring that they have variety of seeds. The Farmers are now practising what they had been trained in by Seed Savers Network such as the importance of saving, selling, sharing, and exchanging their locally produced seeds with each other.

They have also established seed banks which are used to store their various indigenous seeds that keeping agricultural production at a higher level and makes it sustainable. A visit to Mwiruti Women Group at Kariandusi in Gilgil, you meet Ms Rachael Waithera who is now making money from selling Black Night Shade (Managu) and Amaranda (Terere) seeds which she makes from natural selection. She sells the seeds at Ksh.50 for every spoonful.

Besides, she is also involved in agro-biodiversity farming on her 2-acre piece of land in Kariandusi area. Ms Waithira says this has empowered her economically as she has become more independent rather than waiting for her husband to provide everything. Her advice to the women is to wake up and embrace agro-biodiversity.

“These are Black Night Shade (Managu) seeds that I selected myself. I have been selling to other farmers and getting some coins for my needs. My appeal to other women is for them to wake up and embrace farming. This is the only way we shall have plenty of food and also become empowered economically” said Ms Waithera.

Sentiments echoed by Ms Jane Wangari-a member of the group that has 20 members so far.Ms Wangari who is now in charge of the group’s seed bank says since they embraced the culture of saving their own seeds, they have been able to exchange various varieties hence boosting yields.“The concept of seed banks has helped us so much as a group since we have a variety and also improved yields” says Ms Wangari.

Ms Lydia Nyambura who has been taking the women groups through various training on agro-biodiversity and selection of seeds says she has been able to reach several women groups in Gilgil and Naivasha sub-counties. to Ms Nyambura, there is a need for farmers to be taught documentation of indigenous seeds so as to avert losing heritage of such.

“Agro-biodiversity and documentation are what will help save our heritage when it comes to matters of food. So far I have reached more than 20 groups in Gilgil and Naivasha sub-counties” she said.

The groups of farmers have also been trained on how to use organic fertilizers. Ms Lennah Wangari from Eco Fuels Kenya-that is focusing on environmental soundness and robust agricultural sector towards realizing sustainable development says yields will only be boosted if the soil is restored back to its normal nutrients content.

She is appealing to all stakeholders and more so the government to come up with projects that will help boost organic farming in the country.“The only way we shall ensure the safety of our farmers and the nation at large is by all stakeholders coming up with projects that will enhance organic farming” says Ms Lennah.

In a move to protect the indigenous seeds, farmers have now commenced a move that will see the establishment of Kenya Indigenous Seed Movement. Chairman Makongo Farmers Network Mr Francis Ngiri says the movement will play a big role in protecting their rights as indigenous farmers. He adds that there have been cases where some individuals have bred the indigenous variety with others and achieved the patent.

Ngiri adds that the laws of Kenya as far as farming is concerned only favour the commercial farmers and neglecting the indigenous ones.“We want the government of Kenya to help us the indigenous farmers to assist us to save our indigenous seeds” said Ngiri.

Sentiments echoed by Mr Dominic Kimani from Gilgil based Seed Savers Network. Mr.Kimani says to address food insecurity in the country then there is a need for farmers to be sensitized on the need to embrace agro-biodiversity through the community.“With the climate changes, it is high time we think of agro-biodiversity. We plant those crops that can withstand the harsh climate” says Kimani.

Written by Pristone Mambili




In 2009 Daniel Wanjama and his four colleagues left their jobs at the Ministry of Agriculture to start the Seed Savers Network, a non-profit agro-diversity social enterprise based in Gilgil, Nakuru County to promote environmentally free access to seeds by farmers.

According to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, the informal seed sector in Kenya accounts for about 60-70 per cent of most seeds planted by farmers across the country. In this, farmers recycle seeds from previous harvests thereby denying them the chance to maximize yields.

“We did our own survey in five villages in Gilgil with sample farmers and found many challenges that they encountered like low prices, low-quality products, oversupply leading to wastage in the farming of traditional crops such as arrowroots, cassava, sweet potato vines and cereals,” said Daniel.

With skills acquired in his previous career in the ministry, the four implemented their idea to educate farmers on a variety of services including seed bulking, seed multiplication, seed selection, small-scale seed bank development, among others that would see farmers in the region grow different types of crops chemical free.

“After farmers harvest seeds, we normally sort the best grains from the weak ones and thereafter preserve them with diatomaceous dust, a pesticide and agent that absorb moisture and keeps the seeds dry,” said Daniel.

Farmers preparing sweet potato vines for planting

This type of farming ensures the conservation of natural resources (land, water and air) by ensuring no environmental pollution by use pesticides. This involves training of farmers on the use of organic bio-pesticides formulation, liquid manure and vermin compost to minimize the use of external inorganic farm inputs such as urea or diammonium phosphate.

“Through agro-biodiversity, we established that indigenous foods such as yams, arrow roots, cassava among others were almost going into extinct and thus it was necessary conserving them by showing farmers how to do it for free,” said Daniel.

The process comprises saving quality seeds from their farms in a bank and identifying the best seeds for a certain region.

The network gets their resources for training, workshops, practical’s and agricultural lesson, seeds buying and planting materials through local and International grants like the Government of Kenya, Tudortrust, Kenya Food Rights Alliance (KEFRA) among other organizations.

They have so far trained more than 50,000 farmers across Kenya. They also train the youths through mobilization and believe that due to the high rise of population food will be scarce hence need to venture into agro-biodiversity.

According to World Bank, Kenya’s population is growing at a rate of 2.5 per cent annually.

“We believe in a bright and healthy future of the population thus the success of plants and animal biodiversity practices lies in today’s youth and that is why we are relentlessly reaching out to more youth groups and individuals to train them on the importance of seed and biodiversity preservation,” he said.

However, they encounter some challenges like biopiracy; exploiting their genetic material from the farmers without paying compensation of patents by some foreign organizations.

“We need to keep away from philosophical ideas on farming and put the right practices and research in crops conservation for our people,” said Daniel.

Interested farmers can contact Daniel on +254 712 451 777

Written by Gerald Njihia



Seeds at the display

‘Old is gold,’ they say. This was evident at Karunga Town Centre on 14th March 2019 during the Seed Fair. Local seed varieties grown and saved by custodian farmers for many years were showcased and caught many as a surprise. Coloured maize (red, purple, yellow, white), over 25 beans, 10 varieties of vegetables, various fruits and root tubers.

These developed a beautiful pattern on the tables which was a symbol of the nutritive richness of food diversity in the population after conserving agro-biodiversity. From a distance, one could follow their conversation after visiting various stands and it was evident that Seed Savers is impacting on their livelihood by strengthening Farmers Managed Seed System.

The event was held in March when farmers start sourcing seeds for planting in anticipation of the long rains. This gave them an opportunity for buying, sharing and exchanging seeds. These practices improve agro-biodiversity conservation by enhancing access for local seeds to the farming communities.

The seed Fair brought together 18 stakeholders and exhibitors; Civil Societies, public and private actors. These were; HIVOs, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Green Avera, Slow Food, Biovision Trust, Office of Member of County Assembly, Agatha Amani House, Ukulima Sacco, ADIL company among others. Farmers showcased their farm-saved seeds where some were packed and labelled Open Source Seed System.

Speaker after speaker emphasized the importance building capacity of farmers to be able to save their own seeds especially for crops neglected by the commercial seed sector. ‘It is difficult to find clean potato seeds and avocado seedlings in Nakuru County. I challenge seed savers Network to work more on this area,’ Mr Wachira from Ministry of Agriculture explained.

Anne Majani (HIVOs E.A-Kenya Office), Immaculate Yossa (HIVOs E.A-Uganda Office) and Nout Van Der Vaart (HIVOs Netherlands) explained to the participants regarding their Collaboration with Seed Savers on the Documentation for Underutilized Local Varieties in Nakuru project and its importance to the farming community. They also highlighted the concept of Open Source Seed System for the free use of seeds by farmers without restrictions.

Indeed, farmers are the best trainers! From a distance, one was wondering what a uniformed security guard and a middle-aged man wearing torn, repaired and dirty clothes were doing at the seed fair. To some, the man reminded them of the song ‘coat of many colours by Dolly Parton.’

At last, the questions were answered when Farmers from Kikopey Wakulima Self-help Group presented a play called ‘Masaibu ya Mkulima’ (Plight of farmers). The farmers wrote the script which highlighted various injustices from unfavourable seed laws which hinder access to farm-saved seeds. This was after various interactions and exposure by Seed Savers Network aimed at deepening their understanding of seeds related legal framework in Kenya.

The play also showed the challenges farmers face to obtain seeds provided by the commercial seed sector; high pricing and long distances to agro-shops. As a remedy to the solution, they sensitized participants on an alternative source of seeds through community seed banks. Participants were pleased and learnt so much on seed related legal framework which to some was new.

James Kagwe a participant from Naivasha shared his experience to Seed Savers Team.’ As a permaculture farmer am pleased to know Seed Savers Network. When you buy seeds it creates dependency. Seed saving solves this problem and encourages a regenerative culture which is at the core of permaculture.

This Seed Fair helped me obtain a local peas ‘Njogu ya Gikuyu’ which I lost its seeds like 20 years ago. I used to plant them at Nyandarua and have now been able to obtain it from farmers. I had a problem in accessing the seeds as they are not stocked in agro shops at my current area of farming in Naivasha. I also obtained broad beans and this system of saving seeds will encourage crop diversity,’ he said.

Peninah Ngahu from Gilgil says, ‘It was a historic day! I liked how farmers displayed their farm-saved seeds and the art of bringing people together. This creates a close social tie in the community. I am happy to have shared my bean seeds with farmers from Kikopey. Our group saved beans and maize seeds to farmers from Molo and Naivasha. In addition, our Seedbank obtained sunflower and chia seeds which we will multiply.’