Seed Savers Coordinator during the launch

Family farming forms an integral part of feeding the population in Kenya. Households derive their livelihood from their farms either from the production of crops or animals. This is a decade practice which helps in fighting food insecurity in the country. In addition, it contributes to the conservation of agro-biodiversity and natural resources as it is part of cultural heritage in the farming communities.

The idea of Family farming is timely as the United Nations strive to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The approach by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) proposes to put farmers at the centre to achieve SDGs; No poverty,Zero hunger,Good Health and well-being,Quality education,Gender equality,clean water and sanitation, affordable  and clean energy,decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequalities,sustainable cities and communities,responsible consumption and production,climate action,life below water and life on land.

The vision of the UN Decade of family farming 2019-2028: A world where diverse, healthy and sustainable food and agricultural systems flourish, where resilient rural and urban communities enjoy a high quality of life in dignity, equity, free from hunger and poverty.

Diverse farm-saved seeds

To achieve this vision, various pillars from local to global level forms the basis of actions. Countries need to; Develop an enabling policy environment to strengthen family farming, support youth and ensure the generational sustainability of family farming, promote gender equity in family farming and the leadership role of rural women, strengthen family farmers’ organizations and capacities to generate knowledge, represent farmers and provide inclusive services in the urban-rural continuum, improve socio-economic inclusion,resilience and well-being of family farmers, rural households and communities, promote sustainability of family farming for climate-resilient food systems and lastly to strengthen the multi-dimensionality of family farming to promote social innovations contributing to territorial development and food systems that safeguard biodiversity, environment and culture.

This is necessary because farming is faced with numerous challenges which affect its success. Farmers continue to experience high post-harvest losses, undeveloped marketing systems and value chains, high cost of production, low farm investments, loss of biodiversity, less agricultural extension, land fragmentation due to increasing population, less government support, gender disparity in ownership of land, dominance of production by old population, declining consumption of local food, declining space of farmers’ rights, less crop diversification, soil degradation, unfavourable agricultural policies and climate change.

This was vividly and thoroughly tabled during the event. Speaker after speaker highlighted the plight of the family farmers from their respective regions; Africa, America, Europe and Asia. It was evident from different parts of the world that this category of farmers comprises the majority. Various governments and agricultural actors have injected billions as subsidies or payments to boost production. It was also notable that there is an unacceptable loss of biodiversity and unsustainable production in various parts of the world.

This is an area Seed Savers Network has tried to raise awareness in Kenya. This is in line with our mission ‘To

Farmers sorting their seeds

conserve agro-biodiversity by strengthening communities’ seed systems for improved seed access and food sovereignty.’ It was a great honour to get the opportunity to join like-minded organizations and share our experiences in the conservation of biodiversity which is closely linked to food and nutrition security during the UN Decade of Family Farming Launch, FAO Headquarters-Rome.

Mr Daniel Wanjama, Seed Savers Network Coordinator represented the organization in various forums with the message of empowering family farmers to conserve their agro-biodiversity for well -being of the population. The drive being helping each farmer to have access to diverse and less costly seeds for planting to contribute to the mitigation of climate change, fighting food insecurity in the country and also enhance food sovereignty.

Agro-biodiversity loss is one of the challenges! This is a wake-up call to various stakeholders in the agricultural sector to combine efforts and expertise through consortia to eliminate various challenges facing family farming. This has also been affirmed during the event and in the future family farming will receive high attention in various regions.

Seed Savers Network as a grassroots organization for family farmers is keen to take full advantage of the global attention on family farmers and transform policies and goodwill to tangible support that will change the lives of family farmers within the decade.


FAO and IFAD.2019.United Nations Decade of Family Farming 2019-2018.Global Action Plan. Rome


Existing Seeds legal framework locally and internationally continue to prioritize complete ownership of seeds by individuals. This is done through provision of intellectual property rights. This limits the freedom of farmers to save the seeds. As an organization  we have realized an ideal system in addition to farmers seed system called Open Source Seed System that encourage breeders not to patent the seeds but declare them Open Source.

This has been made possible by learning from Hivos. This ensures that seeds remain free for use with no limitation. The system enhances seeds as a public good free to all. In team of three we have been analyzing the existing legal framework to identify challenges and opportunities for Open Source Seeds in Kenya.

We have gathered views from Kephis and Gerri which have enriched our paper and deepened our understanding on the implication of the system on seed freedom. So far the paper is at a draft stage. This will be published for a free access to the public as well like-minded organizations. The findings will then be disseminated through our online platforms. This will be done after a launch where various stakeholders and farmers representatives will be invited.

As a network with farmers saving local seeds we have integrated this concept where farmers are packaging and labeling their seeds Open Source Seeds. So far this has been done for local vegetables. This is also denoting the communal ownership of the seeds which is part of their cultural heritage.

We also try to bring plant breeders and research institutions to embrace the system and declare their seeds as OSS.This will ensure that farmers are free to use the materials for multiplication, propagation and in improvement of their crops. The system promotes existence of economic justice and enhances food security through diversity.

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.”