The birth and growth of modern science in plant breeding over the years was seen as a ‘savior’ in solving various agricultural production problems. Farmers sang the chorus ‘it is a new variety’ as breeders embarked on hybridization.
Millions and millions of farmers abandoned their local ones hoping to improve their livelihood.This blossomed and there was massive plant genetic erosion for local varieties. The tendency entrapped farmers due to implications of Plant Breeders Rights (PBRs).
Their freedom to share and exchange saved seeds was limited. The practice was an old practice in Kenyan farming communities. This is clearly denoted in an African proverb ‘Mbegu ndiu managwo’ meaning that no one can deny another a seed.
In addition, farmers saving seeds are required by Kenyan seed laws to pay royalties to the breeders. The value is a given percentage of the total revenue at the farm gate level. This directly increases the cost of production and offers a second payment to the breeder; cost of seeds and royalty.
Seed Savers Network identified an information gap in farming communities and awakened the spirit of farmers managed seed systems. The concept of seed and food sovereignty continue to transverse the country through farmers outreach programme. From field experiences, farmers feel at a great loss where some local seeds are no longer traceable in their communities.
Increased awareness on their rights has led to emergence of farmers’ champions who have played a significant role in empowering other farmers. This year, their vibrancy in training other farmers on their rights, importance of crop diversity, through songs and drama have been instrumental in sharing information in their regions.
The integration of demonstration plots for training farmers on farm saved seeds has changed their perception on its production. The essence of maintaining soil health for increased production has been an area of focus during the training. This has sparked a new practice of using locally available farm inputs to enhance productivity for their soils. Initially, farmers ignored incorporating manure in to their soils.
‘And the way we throw it away because we don’t need it in our homesteads,’ Jane from Njeru Self Help Group narrated during a training session. Farmers in the area are known to have large flocks of sheep and usually dispose the manure to a neighboring forest where businessmen collect it for distribution to Kiambu at Ksh.22, 000 per lorry.
The lucky ones sold it at ksh.3, 000 which was used to buy fertilizer. The group after training in the demonstration plot provided by one of their members like other groups has adopted seed saving and integrated organic soil fertility management in their farms.
Indeed, not all that glitters is gold. The introduction of hybrids led to mono-culture. This creates homogeneity in agricultural fields affecting crop diversity. As witnessed in the past, mono-culture exposes farmers to a high risk due crop failure attributed to adverse environmental conditions.
In Kenya for instance, the effect of climate change, outbreak of diseases (Maize lethal Necrosis) and Pests (Fall Army Worm) have been the darkest times to farming communities. Farmers experienced heavy losses leaving them with less/no food to provide to their families. This is especially in maize which is a major staple food.
In midst of these challenges were farmers part of Seed Savers Network. The outcomes of their efforts in diversifying their crops were promising as they had food for their families. Special traits in disease and pest resistant inherent to their local varieties was an incentive to save more and diverse seeds.The wave of change continue to blow to more farmers as the beneficiaries share the good news.
The debate on the high nutritional value of local food over the years seems to grow stronger and stronger. Voice from medical experts, nutritionists, media and researchers add more weight on this matter. Food consumption behavior is
gradually changing in favor of local and organically grown food. The demand although growing slowly shows a foreseeable future in increased production of local crop crops. This means farmers will require local seeds for planting which will only be supplied through the farmers managed seed system. As a network, we continue to build capacity of farmers in seed saving to enhance realization of our mission of strengthening communities’ seed systems for improved seed access and enhanced food sovereignty. This is critical in matching the expected demand with production.
The introduction of Open Source Seed System in Kenya by Hivos ushers a new dawn in the seed sector in Kenya. The concept advocates for seeds to remain common goods, free and available for use to everyone without restrictions. Great news! what a joy that the chain of plant breeder rights entangling farmers freedom on seed saving, exchange and sharing will in the future be a story of the past.
Seed Savers Network has been working closely with Hivos through the Open Source Seed System initiative. We continue to diffuse the idea to farmers, government agents, researchers, Like-minded CSOs and NGOs.This has been done through various platforms; Exhibitions at KARLO Njoro during World Food Day, media (radio and Facebook) and stakeholders meeting held at our hall.
Currently, the network is working with farmers in documentation of underutilized local crops in Nakuru County. This tries to develop a reference for local varieties as well as document its associated traditional knowledge. So far, farmers have been trained on various aspects of the work and remains determined in identifying custodians for various local varieties in their regions.
The output of this endeavor is to promote utilization of the local crops as seed or food under confines of open source seed system. More farmers will access diverse seeds freely and engage in production to meet the created demand due to increased information on the nutritional composition of local food items. The tendency will have a multiplier effect on the number of farmers saving seeds as they try to tap the emerging agribusiness opportunity.
The emergence of community seed banks in villages has ushered a new era of strengthening communities’ seed system. These acts as seed access points for other farmers in the village where custodian farmers store their seeds. On average each serves 200 farmers. The training on seed production and treatment is done by Seed Savers
Extension Officers who undertakes farmers Outreach Programmes in farming areas.
The model used for the seed bank is that a seed bank member volunteer space for the members to store their individual seeds.The seed bank ensures security for the seeds. Farmers during difficult times in the past used to consume the seeds which exposed them further to food insecurity as they lacked the seeds for planting on onset of rain. The seed banks also ensures accessibility to diverse local seeds amongst the members and by other community members.
So far Seed Savers has established 40 seed banks. The operations of the seed banks involves seed; multiplication, collection and recording, processing and fairs. During seed fairs farmers from different seed banks come together to showcase their work, share seeds and also train other farmers in the area.
This has enhanced spread of the concept to many farmers where in some cases farmers champions have established community seeds in their villages on their own. The tendency brings aspect of sustainability on farmers managed seed system work as farmers take the lead role.
The current spirit by Kenyan Government through the Ministry of agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in developing a policy for composite flours is another area. Of late senior government officials have been consistent in adding millet and sorghum to current maize flours. This will promote consumption of these crops thus trickling down the effect to farmers for more production.
Currently farmers obtain seeds from their farm saved seeds or sharing from other farmers.The dominance of maize in manufacturing had weakened the production and consumption of these two crops. This was also disincentive for producers and forced to embark on subsistence production.
However, the proposed approach by the Kenyan government moving into the future will amplify the farmers managed seed system in supplying the seeds to match the increasing demand for sorghum and millet in the country.
Lastly, Seed Savers Network remains strategic and focused to tap and sensitize farmers on the opportunities. To strengthen the farmers managed seeds system, the organization has developed modules targeting farmers’
champions and staff from like-minded organizations. This will build their capacity and prepare them as drivers of change in their communities.
The module is designed to offer theoretical and practical exposure necessary in seed production, processing and storage (in community seed banks). Participants after the training will be guided by the organization to diffuse their skills back to their community. This will ensure seed savings occurs in various regions independently and in sporadic manner at grassroots level which is a pre-requisite for a seed movement.
Initially, the efforts of strengthening farmers managed seed system was hampered by existence of knowledge gap on its components. The current approach by seed savers through the module will contribute in bridging the gap by streamlining and building capacity of the mentioned actors.