Seed Savers Network Training Local and International Visitors

Students from University of Gastronomic Sciences (Italy) with Mwitamayu self-Help Group
Hosting students from University of Gastronomic Sciences (Italy) with Mwitamayu self-Help Group

As interest in seed saving grows, more people are being attracted to our work. Seed Savers Network is an ideal organization to train and provide practical exposure on agro-biodiversity conservation. Our approach involves engaging those interested in our work in field activities with the farming community to enhance their understanding of agro-biodiversity conservation and seed banking. The Seeds Savers Network Extension Department has also developed a Seed Saving Extension Manual to be used as a reference guide which is available for only KSh 500.

One example of this was a one-day academic tour provided to students from Italy’s University of Gastronomic Sciences. The event started with an early morning interactive session in which students were oriented on agro-biodiversity conservation over a cup of tea with Seed Savers staff. Students were provided a copy of the Seed Saving Extension Manual which outlines how to save open pollinated seeds. The students then saw organic farming in practice in the demonstration garden managed by our interns from organic training colleges (Baraka and Manor House College). They were later engaged in weeding the avocado seedlings where they were exposed to nursery seed management practices. The day ended by interacting with 30 farmers in Mwitamayu Self-Help Group where we had a common lunch. The farmers enjoyed their company by learning greetings in Italian. The students were later taken through the process of agro-biodiversity conservation (selection, field management practices, harvesting, sorting and storage in the seed bank). A total of 15 students attended along with their tutor. It was clear from the smiles on the students faces that this was a pleasant and fruitful event.

Ministry Of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries officials at our seedbank
Ministry Of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries official at our seed bank following the training on agro-biodiversity conservation

A similar interest in our work prompted a visit from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. This group was analyzing the state of seed saving in the country and wanted to see a seed bank, so Seed Savers Network arranged for them to see the seed banks of two local farmer groups. We were glad to see an interest in the so called ‘orphaned crops’ which are not bred by commercial breeders for food security.

 

Interview with Hansels from Netherlands
Interview with Hansels from Netherlands

Our work has attracted international Journalists Hans Wetzels, from Webnews (Netherlands) and Svens Toffins (consultant photographer sent by Hivos) to take photos on seeds and interview on agro-biodiversity conservation. In his recent article, Wetzels wrote, “On one end of the village of Gilgil is the headquarters of Seed Savers Network – a club of nearly ten thousand farmers who want to protect traditional seeds. They organize workshops, build seed banks and ensure that locally grown seed varieties are available in markets nearby. Daniel Wanjama is director of the organization and looks from his small office on the fabulous depth of the Rift Valley.”

“Farmers around here use crop rotation to keep their soil healthy and disease outside the door,” he says. “If they would all switch to a resistant designed GMO crop means the end for many local crops . . . The farmers have constructed a seed garden in the hills.”

Farmers Database and E-Extension

Francis Ngiri showing saved Chia seeds
Francis Ngiri showing saved Chia seeds. Ngiri is the only supplier of Chia seeds in our database.

The Seed Savers Network database captures information on unique seeds to ease traceability and link the supply to the demand. Some of the crops and seeds that farmers have provided for our database include vegetables like amaranths, spider plant, black nightshade, cabbage, kale, onion, garlic, lettuce, coriander, California wonder and chia seed; root crops like carrot, arrow roots, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, yam, and cereal crops; 10 local maize varieties including sorghum, pearl millet, and finger millet; 40 varieties of beans including saitoti, kibuu, gifamu, nyayo, wairimu, mwitemania, ayub, kiburo, and noe; and fodder crops like Boma Rhodes, calliandra, desmodium, vetiver grass, and nappier grass. Information in the farmers database helps to link supply to demand in the informal seed sector (open source seeds). This database facilitates farmer to farmer seed trade and exchange which is important because local crop seeds and planting materials are not available in the conventional market. This database provides potential buyers with information on how to contact farmers and what they produce.

Our database includes over 2,500 farmers spread across Kenya in the rift valley, and central, eastern, and western Kenya. So far, this information has enhanced our agribusiness market linkages. For example, through online advertising of farmers produce and unique seeds interested buyers can reach farmers easily. Francis Ngiri, pictured above, benefited from this program when he was connected to a buyer in Nairobi who purchased chia seeds worth KSh 3,600.

To promote this and other Seed Savers work and to provide additional information to farmers online we have been working to increase our social media presence. Our Facebook audience currently stands at 300 people and we have been posting photos from advocacy and extension activities on agro-biodiversity conservation and food sovereignty twice per week. We have also created a twitter account allowing farmers to receive Seed Savers tweets for free via SMS once they follow our twitter handle. These tweets provide farmers with ecological agriculture farming tips and market information from Seed Savers extension staff at their convenience.

Benefits of Seed Saving Unfold

Benefits of Seed Saving Unfold

Farmers selling and exchanging seeds in a seed fair
Farmers selling and exchanging seeds in a seed fair

Seed Savers Network continues to promote agro-biodiversity through community seed systems and seed access for improved seed security among smallholder farmers. Over 6,500 farmers have benefited through interaction with Seed Savers Network in various seed projects and programs this year. This brings the total number of individual farmers served since Seed Savers’ founding to nearly 50,000.

To increase our impact this year we have organized 25 seed fairs throughout the region where farmers are able to exhibit their seeds to members of their own farmer group as well to non-group members. These events bring together more than 200 farmers to learn about the importance of saving, selling, sharing, and exchanging their locally produced seeds with each other. For example, Jane Wanjiru from Eka Tano Women’s Group was able to exchange her bean variety, mwite mania, with Mary Njeri Mwaura from Diatomite Budget Women’s Group, who had the rare mukura noke variety of beans, during a seed fair organized at the Diatomite Farming Center. Others successes include the sale of 100 bunches of sweet potato vines at KSh 100 per bunch by the Diatomite Budget Women’s Group making KSh 10,000 for a non-group member.

At a recent seed fair in Kigogo Mr. Francis Ngiri, a group member of Makongo Farmers Network, sold chia seeds he produced through self-seed saving for KSh 1,700. In addition to Mr. Ngiri’s success, Mary Karori sold cassava cuttings making KSh 400 and Jenifer Ngendo sold 2kgs of broad beans to John Mwaura, a non-group member, for KSh 400.

According to one seed fair attendee, Elizabeth Wangeci, “This is a great approach to farming and we did not know that we can learn that much from each other. As for me I had just one type of beans in huge quantities but I have exchanged to another fast growing variety and I am really grateful.”

This year farmers sold KSh 70,000 worth of seeds to members and non-group members who attended Seed Savers sponsored seed fairs.