Farmers collecting their seeds

When Nimbus clouds form in the sky in the months of March and September, farmers start to search for seeds for planting. Agricultural and weather forecasting departments feature in the media advising farmers on the unpredictable weather patterns and in some instances requesting them to take advantage of the little rainfall available.

This call kept on ringing at the minds of farmers and to some, it reminds them of dark days ahead of food insecurity due to lack of money to buy seeds. To others, it gives them hope of feeding their families as they have seeds from their seed banks. This is anchored in the farmers managed seed system which is an ancient practice in agriculture.

The lucky farmers have adopted this practice of seed saving after training by Seed Savers Network. This concept shares some aspects of money saving in the financial sector. Money saving has acted as a vehicle of empowering communities where members deposit some money for a given time in his/her savings account which in return benefits a borrower who needs the money for investments. The borrower pays back the principal amount with interest.

This also applied in community seed banks where members own a given quantity of seed. Those with excess seeds loan other group members who in return brings back twice the quantity lent. This activity is carried out during seed collection in a seed bank before the onset of rainfall for timely planting. Members leave 10% of seeds saved to help them obtain seeds in events of crop losses.

Seed Savers supports them to organize this activity which has various items; germination percentage where 80% is encouraged for planting, cultural food, traditional dances, record keeping, seed exchange, sharing and selling. These help farmers to obtain diverse seeds thereby encouraging crop diversification. During this season, Officers from Ministry Of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, CHALICE and Biovision Trust attended.

Farmers from various groups had different seed collection dates from 15th March to  15th April 2019. Boniface Kagundo a farmer from Njeru Baraka Self-Help Group says,’ “In 2018, I was given 2 kilograms of kidney beans by a friend and I have been able to save them after the training. Last season, I harvested about 50kg of the beans after selecting and eventually saving. Now I have enough seeds for my two-acre piece of land.’’

Nancy Njoki a farmer from Muoroto Women Group explains, ‘After preparing my land I have joined other group members today to collect seeds from the seed bank. I want to plant them early as I wait for the rainfall. I have exchanged my Kahato bean and Makueni Maize with Kawanjiku and Yellow from members. Seed Savers has helped us because we not rushing to the agro shops like before and we are also secure on seeds in case of crop failure due to unfavourable environment.’

Seed Savers applauds the groups for their concerted efforts in agro-biodiversity conservation. Genetic erosion has been increasing over the years in the country and solutions lies with farmers managed seed system. Kenyan 2010 constitution and Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 remains guiding framework for Kenya in biodiversity conservation. When simple efforts are combined from all sectors of the Economy Kenya will realize biodiversity conservation.



‘Harambee’ was a popular Swahili phrase used in Kenya after independence which meant pulling together. The community joined efforts to improve their social welfare. Togetherness was fundamental and each contributed to building the nation. As a result, many schools, roads, hospitals and houses were constructed in the’ Harambee spirit.’

Seed Savers has seen the benefits of involving farmers’ champions in the network and extension officers from like-minded organizations to strengthen farmers managed seed system. From past work experience, it was clear that various stakeholders needed capacity building on seeds related issues and gain practical exposure to enhance their work.

In efforts to contribute to this, Seed Savers developed short modules on various topics vital for strengthening farmers managed seed system for Farmers Champions and Farmers Trainers. This intends to amplify and strengthen on-farm seed saving countrywide. Seed Savers Network sees the approach as a driver of change and a cheaper model for reaching more farmers in Kenya.

The two training were held in March and April for farmers’ champions and Farmers trainers respectively. Participants came from 8 counties namely; Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, Garissa, Kisii, Nakuru, Kiambu, Nyandarua and Kakamega. Facilitators brought on board their expertise and shared their experience on farmers managed seed system.

During a CBR practical exercise

Indeed, this was a mind-blowing exercise for the participants. The training was designed to ensure mindset change and develop farmers managed seed system ambassadors in various regions in the country. This called for commitment and attitude change for prosperity and transformation of farming communities in their respective areas.

Questions and ideas from participants re-energized Seed Savers team. It was evident that agro-biodiversity conservation forms an integral part of achieving food security in the country. Their experiential sharing enriched the training by acting as case studies. The saying that farmers are the best trainers to other farmers surely works.

The topic of Seed and Food Sovereignty raised a hot debate in the two training. Its diminishing space in Kenya followed a clear pattern. This was depicted by each facilitator from inside or outside Seed Savers Network. Participants termed their seed and food sovereignty as paramount for their survival. This was a new dawn in the farmers managed seed system and recognition of the responsibility of each citizen in safeguarding it gives hope for a foreseeable future.

When you mention the word piracy in Kenya, a picture of the music industry is created. This is to biopiracy which is a greater risk to food security. Safeguarding genetic materials owned by the indigenous farming community in Kenya requires attention too. This was well emphasized during the training and learners trained on Community Biodiversity Register. This moves hand in hand with efforts of strengthening farmers managed seed system by ensuring availability of the seeds freely without restrictions which will be difficult when they are privatized by individuals or institution due to Plant Breeders Rights (PBRS). This topic involved a practical where the participants did Four Cell Analysis for various local vegetables, characterization using Bioversity Farmers Knowledge Descriptor and Field Excursion to Kamathatha Women Self-Help Group’s Seed Bank. The concept of Open Source Seed System was highlighted as an alternative to Plant Breeders Rights.

The field visit helped the participants to interact with the farming community and learn on indigenous knowledge and seeds. The display outside their seed banks enriched their understanding of the need to develop the community Biodiversity Register in order to safeguard it. It was also a wake-up call for them to establish seed banks in their respective regions as a foundation for enhancing farmers managed seed system.

Participants during the field visit

Local Food diversity prepared by the farmers showed the impact of farmers managed seed system in a community. The main dish called ‘Mukimo’ which was prepared using locally available food items; pigeon peas, pumpkin leaves and potatoes served with meat stew from a local goat. Porridge from sorghum and millet was served using a traditional calabash which gave a sense of culture and developed a social tie between the participants and the community. Eating local food is Seed Savers Network’s ideology for enhancing a sustainable food system.

Another critical area of training was on seed production and processing. Participants got essential knowledge and skills for enhancing farmers managed seed system. This was designed to have practical sessions. Over the years a lot of traditional knowledge on seed saving has been lost which necessitates the need to train various stakeholders on this subject. Without seed saving there will be no strong farmers managed seed system. Seed Savers anchors the training on traditional science of plant breeding for easy understanding and uptake by all in the community.

In cognition to the seed legal environment in Kenya, participants got an opportunity to learn and analyse various seeds legal frameworks locally and internationally. This was an area that government and non-government actors need to work on. Civic education to the farming communities requires to be incorporated in various extension programmes.

It was clear that in Kenya there is less public participation in the formulation of various agricultural legal framework and when done it is centralized which makes the participation of farmers difficult. Participants having gone through training understood their responsibility to mobilize and sensitize other farmers in their regions to attend and ensure that farmers’ rights are safeguarded

‘Knowledge is power,’ they say. The fruits of the training have started to form and in the long run Seed Savers Network will hold more. Participants continue to serve as Ambassadors and over 500 farmers have been trained in a span of 1 month after the training.20 new groups have been recruited and 1 seed bank established. For sure, farmers managed seed system will grower stronger if we all pull together.