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.
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.
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
In strive to build capacity for staff, farmers and journalists (Mulembe FM and Seeds of Gold) in our network, we had a seed saving learning journey to various destinations in Uganda. The 5-day trip targeted interaction with farmers, government actors and Non-governmental organizations from Uganda to share their experiences and best practices in seeds saving.
They included; National Research Organization (Naro), National Gene bank, Bioversity International, GRAIN and Community Seed Banks. The team got an opportunity to learn from them on; Seed Revival, agro-ecological agriculture, seed multiplication, treatment and storage, Concept of Quality Declared Seed (QDS),Running community seed banks as business, records in the seed bank and Quality Assurance function the operations.
What excited us throughout the visit was the support of government and research institutions in promotion of community seed banks. The role of Ugandan National Research Organization (Naro), National Gene bank and Bioversity International was at the lips of every speaker. The team followed each closely hoping that one day this will happen in Kenya.
Kiziba Community Seed Bank at Sheema District of Uganda was the evidence of success due to this engagement. The members got initial seeds for multiplication from the National Gene bank and National Research Organization in collaboration with Bioversity International. Naro has been instrumental in building technical capacity of farmers for quality seed production.
At the heart of their work was to ensure farmers access seeds. This has made the government to move an extra mile and provide land for construction of the seed bank. The presence is also visible in day to day running of the facility as
the local area member equivalent to a chief in Kenya forms part of its leadership. He ensures that beneficiaries (farmers) repay back the loaned seeds in the ratio of 1:2 as stipulated in the by-laws of the facility. This prevents the incidences of defaulters aiding in the growth and expansion of the seed bank.
The support from the government and internal control systems has been the drive for its growth to a cooperative which was legally registered last year (2017). This has enhanced their work in community seed business in the area. The achievement has resulted into opening of other seed banks and seed distribution outlets to satisfy the demand for the seeds.
What encouraged us more was the progress and efforts at individual member level. We noted that members have adopted the idea and have developed their own seed banks at their households. About 1km from Kiziba Community Seed bank we accompanied Joyce as she led us to her home.
On arrival we found a group of women seated in a circle with smile on their faces perhaps they knew how knowledgeable we would be after the visit. Their t-shirts were branded ‘Joy and Family’ an in-
dicator of ownership of the work and success in their homestead. As we sat down their leader introduced us and at this time we realized Joyce was an exceptional farmer.
Her role as a mobilizer in Kiziba seed bank also manifested itself at the family seed bank. She is a renowned farmer in the area and her work has received recognition in Uganda and internationally. In her hands she held certificates, pictures at seed fairs and trophy.
Indeed she is ‘the best farmer’ as the community refers to her every time when they are introducing her. Her farm was well organized with crop diversity and high soil fertility. As she took us through various sections of her farm the team was keen to grasp new concept to take them back home. As she took us through the banana plantation the team learnt how to use traditional trapping methods to control banana weevils. To our surprise it worked so well and at every trap we saw three to four weevils which were then physically crushed.
Her farm was spongy-like and we did not hesitate to ask her the secret. With smiles over her face she said, ‘the credit goes to agro-ecological farming. I use my crop residues by incorporating them in the soil especially banana to improve soil fertility.’ She then took us through the process of field management practices for banana which were insightful to the team.
All along she depicted dedication and efforts to learn on quality seed selection, multiplication and knowledge from every word she spoke. Farmers in the team got motivated and termed her as a role model. They felt the need to be pioneers and saw a brighter future in their seed saving work by setting the same standards here in Kenya.
At her homestead stands a structure which serve as a seed bank for the family. Inside were different colours, shapes and sizes of different varieties of seeds. Over 40 varieties of beans, sorghum, millet and local vegetables. The seed bank is well organized and at the corner we saw records and a weighing balance which showed commonality in the operations of the family seed bank with the Kiziba Community seed bank.
We were lucky to receive a cup of a traditional porridge made from fermented millet from the seed bank. This is one way the family seed bank try to value add some of materials which does not qualify as seeds. We then visited another local seed bank which shared the same attributes like the others. The team left the destinations empowered, informed and motivated to strengthen and grow our seed saving work here in Kenya.