TRAINING FARMERS ON AGRO-ECOLOGY

As the size of land decrease small scale farmers continue to apply excessive fertilizers and chemicals to increase food production. This has also been evident also in modern farming where fertigation has been developed to supply fertilizers, soil amendments and other water soluble produce to the crops through irrigation. Foliar spraying has been growing to increase the size of the produce or give it desired colour based on the consumer preferences.

However this approach requires more and more application of the inorganic inputs to increase production each time. This makes the cost of production very high which impoverish small holder farmers as the agro-companies to the bank smiling. In addition the relationship results other effects which are shouldered by the same farmer.

The farmer destroy his soil with macro/micro nutrients imbalances, development of acidity/alkalinity, killing of useful organisms, increased cost of production which minimizes his/her profits, health hazards; through inhaling/coming into contact with the chemicals, consumption of food with  bioaccumulation or drinking contaminated water.

In view of this, Seed Savers Network has embarked on training farmers the interrelationship between the environment and agricultural sustainability. We try to bridge the existing gap in raising their awareness on the implications of increased use of inorganic fertilizers and chemicals on future agriculture and generations. We have been reaching farmers through farmers’ field school, field days, farm and the media (Mulembe FM, Radio Amani and Inooro TV) to sensitize them.

We have training on farm made solutions to control pests and increase the fertility of their soils. Bio-intensive farming has also been integrated to increase production and diversity in a small portion of land. We continue to enhance use of liquid organic fertilizer that enables small scale farmers to apply it as foliar and ensure production of vegetables vertical bags and hanging gardens which also conserve water. These technologies are ideal for farmers with small pieces of land and especially for urban and peri-urban farming. Different crops can easily be intercropped in these gardens.

We encourage planting of Tithonia and comfrey at their farms for source of raw materials which we distribute to the

Extension officer showing farmers Tithonia

m during training. These crops also have additional benefits to farmers as source of fodder to livestock and fence for Tithonia and as a local vegetable for Comfrey. Farmers rearing rabbits are also encouraged to use rabbit urine in making the liquid manure.

The aim of making liquid manure is to quickly provide a crop with adequate natural plant food during the growing season. Liquid manure is ready for use after two or three weeks compared to six weeks or more for compost. The liquid manure which is made from bio-slurry or animal manures supplies nutrients fast.

When using farm yard manure, farmers are advised to mix them and put in a sack or a gunny bag. This ensures the liquid manure comprises high level of nutrients. The bag is then suspended in a bucket with clean water which is readily available at their homes. They are then guided on how to cover it using suitable material available. The farmers then wait for three weeks where they dilute it at a ratio of 1:2 (liquid manure to water) for application as a foliar or through drips to their crops.

The same concept applies for farmers with rabbits where they harvest it and ferment it for 21 days. It is well covered and farmers can dilute it at the same ratio for use. When using plants we advise them to use green and young ones. Flowering and fruiting plants has less nutrients required. Tithonia and Comfrey are the crop we use in our work as they contain high level of macro-nutrients (Nitrogen, potassium and Phosphorous).Materials are chopped and put in a bucket with water. They are covered and stirred after four days. The process continues up to 14-21 where it is diluted and applied to their crops.

FIELD GENE BANKS

Yam field gene bank at Kenyan Genetic Resource Research Institute(GeRRI)

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.

sweet potato vines ready for distribution

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

Exchange Visit To Uganda

The team at Uganda

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 a community seed bank

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-

Joyce and family receiving us

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.