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.
Traditionally, agricultural extension personnel had the task of diffusing scientific knowledge to farm families in the farms and homes. This limited the farmers reached and geographical area of coverage. Despite its many benefits, it has limitations which require other approaches in service delivery.
Food Agriculture Organization recommends a ratio of 1:400 (Extension officers to farmers). This is much below the reality in Agricultural sector. Integration of additional farmers outreach methodologies to train and enhance accessibility to agricultural information would benefit more farm households.
As an organization we continue to reach farmer groups’ directly where extension officers meet them at grassroots level for training and in setting demonstrations.We also receive farmers at our demonstration farm as well as offer trainings at our training hall. However, we have amplified our work by use of electronic media, forums, agricultural shows and exhibitions to diffuse the idea of saving local seeds for agro-biodiversity conservation. Through the interactions we have been able to expand our work and reach more small scale farmers.
We have been hosted by Mulembe FM and Radio Amani on various farmers’ programmes where farmers have been trained on seed saving and ecological agriculture. Our presence in the media has helped farmers to inquire through
phone calls and follow up on seed saving concept. This has also been the outcome of Inooro TV coverage in ‘Mugambo wa Murimi’ show. We also contributed to a documentary through Hivos in collaboration with Open Society Foundation where we highlighted the plight of farmers managed seed systems. This will be useful in reaching and enlightening more farmers across the globe who shares the same challenges. Also we contributed to a podcast available online on the ‘Role of Agro-chemicals in Kenya’. Listen This was developed by Jason Farr a graduate student at American University after his internship at our organization. It unveils the untold story and serves as a guide for farmers to enhance their conservation efforts.
Through agricultural shows and exhibitions we have been able to showcase farm saved seeds to farmers.Our extension officers have trained them on the procedures of mass seed selection, harvesting, extraction, sorting,treatment and storage of seeds. This has also been an opportunity to reach senior government officials for instance during Chandera agricultural field day early December, we hosted Agriculture Cabinet secretary Willy Bett and CEC Agriculture Dr. Immaculate at our stand. In July this year during Nakuru Agricultural show, we hosted by then Nakuru governor Kinuthia Mbugua, CEC agriculture Dr.Stanley and Director of Agriculture.
We recently held annual seed fair with farmers from Kakamega, Nakuru, Nyandarua and Kiambu County. Various organization which includes; Hivos, slow Food Kenya, COSDEP and RODI attended.
The event came two months after an international seed fair at Nyando in partnership with Bioversity international and two weeks after World Organic Congress at India where a farmer from our network and extension officer were sponsored by Hivos and KBIOC to participate.All these gave participants opportunity to learn more on our seed saving concept as well as giving opportunity for farmer-farmer training and mentorship.
Another approach is partnership with like-minded organizations locally and internationally.Through PELUM,
KOAN, ABN and KeFAAS we have been able interact with other agricultural extension Officers across the country.This has been an opportunity for experiential sharing on best practices in various organizations .Collaboration with international organizations;European Centre for Development Policy Management and 4 Italian Universities consortium,Bioversity International and Irish Seed Savers provides more information to farmers through inclusive research at farm level,sharing their work in documentaries and other resources.Through these Seed Savers Network links extension services to farmers from outside world to boost our agro-biodiversity work.