Youths are the drivers of change and have potential to transform the population by igniting the spirit of agro-biodiversity conservation and adoption of ecological agriculture. The future of agriculture lies squarely on them as they will be the next policy makers, agripreneurs, private and public actors in this sector.Therefore,agricultural students graduating from universities and colleges require exposure on ecological agriculture and agro-biodiversity topics to deepen their understanding on the interrelationships between various elements in the ecology for a sustainable agriculture.
Some students from Bukura Agricultural College with their attachment supervisor

They also require interaction with the old farmers to tap traditional knowledge on local seeds on their uses, growth traits and cultural attachment. The old are custodians of the traditional seeds and knowledge but there is a risk of emerging a knowledge gap when they die.As our Kenyan Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and fisheries Willy Bett said recently, on average farmers in Kenya are 60 years old;this is alarming as we have fewer youths in agriculture.  Therefore  there is a dire need to engage the old to transfer their traditional knowledge on seeds to the youths.

Agricultural students should be all rounded by integrating ecological agriculture and agro-biodiversity conservation principles in their work. Learning only conventional agriculture exposes the Kenyan farming communities in danger of getting expert advice sidelining local based solutions.As an organization, we believe in giving the youths an opportunity to learn these key principles.Seed savers Network continues to offer attachment and internship to agricultural students. The students work with the farming communities in their day to day farm activities.This is to enhance inter-generational learning.(EAGLE,2008) defines it as a process through which individuals of all ages acquire skills and knowledge, but also attitude and values from daily experience, from all available resources and from all influences in their own‘ life world.

Seed Savers Network aim at changing the attitude of the students as the foundation of attaining the desired outcome. Students learn on the importance of saving local seeds and are engaged in identifying them in their respective localities. This is organized under experiential learning initiative where students from different Kenyan communities are brought together to share on their different traditional seeds.This is further built by engaging them in agro-biodiversity conservation work through traditional seeds saving working closely with the extension department. They are able to meet various farmers groups where they participate in the training. The students also own the idea and are expected transfer the same back to his/her community. Obtaining  traditional knowledge forms part of the inter-generational learning. Students work with the research department in documentation of traditional knowledge and seeds. This gives them the opportunity during data collection to tap the existing knowledge on local seeds and getting insights on their cultural attachment with the seeds. All this targets cultivating a new culture of appreciation of the rich benefits of conserving traditional crops heritage.


our office  library                                                              

The students are also provided with reading materials which are availed at our office library,internet connection for online desktop research and shown films on traditional knowledge and seeds.These resources aim at broadening their understanding on the mentioned two principles under our inter-generational learning programme.On ecological agriculture, the students get opportunity to interact with other students from Tertiary organic institutes like Manor House and Baraka Agricultural College. In addition, our staff has rich knowledge and training on ecological agriculture. The students are trained through our Extension Department where they are guided after the training insetting up a demonstration in our farm.

The practical sessions helps the students to internalize various ecological agriculture elements learnt.These demonstrations has been useful in training farmers,other stakeholders and students during our open days. The students are instrumental during this time as they are expected to explain their demonstration to the visitors.

A student preparing a key hole garden for his demonstration
Therefore, Seed Savers Network recognizes the need to train the youths from tertiary institutions,secondary school(Agriculture and environment clubs) and farmers groups to appreciate the role of agro-biodiversity conservation and ecological agriculture in realizing sustainable agriculture.

Agro-biodiversity on the field defies army worm

   2000m² Kenyan field

There is enough to harvest on 2000 m² field of Maina’s family despite shortage of rain and outbreak of army worm (Photo: Seed Savers Network)

Seed Savers Network and also our 2000 m² Team are happy to report that the idea of the 2000 m2 Field in Gilgil in Kenya has shown some potential in feeding households, especially at this period when Kenya has experienced production challenges due to shortage of rain and outbreak of army worm.

This marks the most difficult moment for farmers across Kenya as maize, which is their staple crop, was heavily attacked by this pest. It led to high harvest losses and crop failure. The national government through the Ministry of Agriculture intervened with a State Pest Control Programme. However, this only large scale farmers benefited from this programme. This situation neglected small-scale farmers such as Maina’s Family, which struggle the pest control difficulties.

The low maize production resulted in the import of maize grains and the introduction of subsidized maize flour by the Kenyan government. This was intended to fill the production deficit to match with the consumption needs. However, Maina’s family enjoyed Irish potatoes and continued to consume vegetables from their field. The surplus is sold which gives them an extra source of income and partially meets the household financial needs.

The Seed Savers Network is happy to see that the future of feeding the population lies in crop diversification and they would like to train many farmers to embrace the idea in their farming system. Despite these challenges, Maina’s family harvested 450 kilograms of potatoes, 100 kilograms of beans, continues to harvest carrots, kale, spinach, pepper, courgettes and other local vegetables – in addition amaranth, kahurura, comfrey, black nightshade and spider weed. The family uses the area which had maize furrow and is well covered with grass for feeding their livestock. Already, they have started with the primary cultivation and are ready for planting in the next season.

The Seed Savers Network is working closely together with Maina‘s family in order to establish another field for the coming season. Soon they will be visiting them to deliver some seeds for planting.

2000 m² Kenia

2000 m² field of Maina`s family in Gilgil (photo: Seed Savers Network)

Their dream is to set a demonstration garden where Maina’s neighbours can come to learn and embrace the idea of diversified cultivation practices. The Seed Savers Network is looking forward to invest more on this idea and establish more 2000 m2 gardens across the country to serve as training centers for crop diversification which will enhance attainment of our agro-biodiversity conservation Mission.

We would like to thank the Seed Savers Network for the important work they are doing and spreading the idea of diversity in agriculture to promote food security.

By Lisa Mair ,2000m2 Field

Lisa Mair

Hivos Open Source Seed Systems Award and the Kenya Climate Innovation Center Mentoring Program

By Jason Farr, visiting intern from American University, Washington, DC

Seed Savers Director, Daniel Wanjama, with KCIC mentor, Tom Kore, in from of Seed Savers Network's office
Seed Savers Network Director, Daniel Wanjama, with KCIC mentor, Tom Kore

In February of 2017 Seed Savers Network (SSN) participated in an open source seed system (OSSS) enterprises pitching event hosted by Hivos, a Netherlands based NGO featuring OSSS businesses ideas from around the globe. SSN won first prize for most innovative business idea for open source seed enterprises. According to Hivos, “The distinctive feature of ‘open source seed’ is an express and explicit commitment—legal and/or ethical—to maintain freedom to use the seed and any of its derivatives.”

SSN’s pitch was to create a tissue culture laboratory to clean and multiply farmers’ seeds and serve as a cold storage gene bank for local varieties. This event introduced SSN to the Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC), who participated in the event as judges as well as scouts for the agribusiness ideas relevant to KCIC. SSN won in the category of most innovative OSSS enterprise idea for incorporating conservation of local varieties in a seed bank as well as improving the access to vegetatively propagated materials seeds to small holder farmers. For winning in this category, SSN was offered an opportunity to work with KCIC for one year as part of the KCIC mentorship program to support new entrepreneurial efforts in OSSS, with the possibility of receiving funding towards the project upon completion. Such funding would help SSN fulfill its goal of developing the tissue culture laboratory budgeted at KSh 5,300,000, allowing SSN to multiply and clean seeds for small holder farmers and to help promote the best varieties of the local plants farmers are growing.

So, what is a tissue culture laboratory and why is SSN planning to develop one? Some crops, like arrow root, cassava, sweet potatoes, yam, and Irish potatoes, are not multiplied through conventional seeds. These vegetative propagated crops require a tissue from a parent plant to be replanted for asexual reproduction, and can be multiplied through tissue culture. A tissue culture lab will allow SSN to multiply these crops for farmers to improve seed access. Through this process, one potato can produce an indefinite number of additional potato seeds.

However, if these cultures contain fungi, disease, or other impurities, it can have a devastating effect on a crop. For example, Irish potato is the second most important starch crop in Kenya after maize, but many of these crops have become infected with bacterial wilt disease that is spread through seeds. Because farmers cannot identify which seeds are infected, they must buy seeds or have their seeds cleaned to screen for diseases. If they do not, the use of diseased seeds can result in the loss of a whole crop. This is why seed cleaning is an important component of the laboratory. Seed cleaning will eliminate these elements from the seeds allowing for the rapid multiplication of clean seeds for the farmers working with Seed Savers.

Seed Savers Network Staff with Tom Kore during a mentoring session
Seed Savers Network Staff with Tom Kore during a mentoring session

As part of the award, Seed Savers is working with a mentor provided by KCIC to enhance the social entrepreneurship component of Seed Savers work to help ensure the success of the tissue culture laboratory, as well as to improve practices in ongoing entrepreneurial activities, like the sale of avocado trees and portable soil testing. The six-month long mentorship program requires six one-on-one meetings with Seed Savers mentor, former banker Tom Kore, as well as six meetings with Mr. Kore and another entrepreneur for group mentoring. According to Mr. Kore, “the overall objective of business mentorship is to motivate and guide the mentee in identifying and closing the gaps in his/her business that will enable him/her to establish sound business practices that will lead to better performance in terms of increased growth in sales, revenue, profits and market opportunities; efficient and effective business systems and internal controls; and an enhanced decision making process. At the of the day, an entrepreneur who has gone through mentorship stands a better chance to steer his/her business towards greater prosperity and sustained growth.”

As a community based organization largely reliant on donor funds, such entrepreneurial activities are designed to offer helpful services and products to farmers while providing Seed Savers with supplemental funding to support the work of promoting biodiversity and ecological agriculture through its work with small farmers around Kenya. Through the mentorship  program and possible support from KCIC, SSN could be in a position to build its own tissue culture laboratory that would prove transformative for the organization and the farmers SSN works with.