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.
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 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.