Writer : James Mwaniki Wahome
INDIGENOUS SEED SOVEREIGNTY REDEFINED
In Kenya, indigenous food crops that include vegetables, tubers and cereals form an essential part of the diet for many rural families, mostly in Arid and Semi-arid Lands. According to Agricultural Sector Development Strategy (2010-2020) initiatives will be up-scaled that involve developing appropriate technologies for various agro-ecological zones, particularly in Arid and Semi-arid Lands where drought resistant and new emerging crops will be promoted …. According to the government, 29 out of 47 counties are classified as Arid and Semi-arid Lands, inhabited by 36 per cent of the national population. Temperatures are high throughout the year and rainfall ranges between 150mm to 850mm. Studies have shown the indigenous crops are resilient and offer significantly higher levels of nutrients compared to contemporary crops. The challenge of frequent droughts has made it more urgent to re-engineer indigenous food to enhance food security. This, however will not happen if the indigenous food is not institutionalized, and integrated into the modern marketing systems.
The greatest challenge is that seeds are preserved - in guards, baskets, pots and in polythene bags (that have recently been banned). Case studies from Migori County in Western Kenya and Tharaka-Nithi County in Eastern Kenya shows the women preserve, propagate and distribute the indigenous seeds among themselves. Women groups collect seeds from members and store it with one of them. Each members is given the seed during planting season. This restricts their reach. The seeds are potentially exposed to elements, diseases and pests. The women groups are sustained by non-governmental organizations dealing in sustainable / conservation agriculture. The groups express need for interaction with peers to get more seeds or domesticate seeds that are adaptable in their zones. Today, exposure is through ad-hoc visits but there is need for longer- and sustained knowledge/ experience sharing. The ageing farmers with average age at 60 makes the need for preserving the indigenous food seeds in structured way more urgent to avert seed extinction.
Availability of the indigenous food items and established traditional women group system is a firm base to expand farming. Where non-governmental organizations exist, they offer formal structure and training. The government policy of promoting drought resistant crops is another strength, that include.the policy to fortify the maize meal with other foods like millet, sorghum and cassava to give variety of nutrients in a food item.
These indigenous foods are resilient, grow with limited amount of water and potentially benefit from abundant manure in Arid Semi Arid Lands. The use of organic matter instead of synthetic fertilizer is an added advantage in soil regeneration and ecosystems that have been through stress as a result of climate change phenomenon and environmental degradation.
If expanded, the indigenous crops would give alternative source of livelihood, contribute to food security, and alleviate poverty.
Poorly coordinated and undocumented seed storage makes it difficult to know quantity of available seed. Traditional propagation, preservation and distribution system is restrictive, and unsustainable, making it difficult to expand and increase yields.The traditional preservation methods in guards and pots, baskets and polythene bags (banned) cannot accommodate huge volumes of seeds. The seeds could also be exposed to moisture and elements. The ageing of the farmers- and their inevitable attrition might lead to loss of knowledge and the seeds.
There is no structured, formal, predictable system for the indigenous seeds making it be viewed more as sentimental cultural issue than a serious solution to food security and nutritional boost.
The government policy on promotion of indigenous food to fortify staple food like maize-meal is an opportunity for the investors in food processing. Availability of land in Arid and Semi-arid Lands is an opportunity for commercialization. Being part of these communities’ culture, there is pride in getting involved in their production, and can be tapped for a quick uptake into mass production and integration into the modern marketing systems. The increased demand for these indigenous foods as nutritional requirement to deal with HIV/ aids, diabetes, obesity and others lifestyle diseases have provided a sustainable market, and sales have been rising although their prices are higher, making them expensive to many.
The traditional food items could decline in production if no sustainable, systematic and scientific ways of propagation, storage and distribution of seeds are instituted. The indigenous knowledge is at threat of disappearing through natural attrition due to the ageing farmers. Climate change phenomenon has brought more diseases and pests that are threat to these seeds- hence there is need for monitoring and research to ensure higher yields and sustainability.
Community Seed Banks (CSBs) would serve the Arid and Semi- arid Lands very well. The CSBs would receive the seeds, certify their quality, package and label them. The seeds would be available through receipting system where the amount stored would be registered against the farmer, and returned at the planting season. The first phase would be seed production targeting many more farmers, followed by fully fledged mass seed production targeting more farmers in the ecological zone.
Members of the public would be allowed to buy seeds at locally acceptable prices (whenever stocks are available). Research organizations would be linked to the CSBs to improve the quantities and qualities to make the seeds more adaptable to changing climateA collaborative system where exchange of seeds is done across the country and joint ventures between the CSBs located in various Arid and Semi-arid LandsBenefits of CSBs
-Closer collaboration in seed generation between members in an ecological zone and other parts of the country.
-Widespread sharing and access of indigenous seeds in the ecological zone and beyond
-Interaction with research organizations for seed improvement, propagation and monitoring possible threats like new pests
-Better records to enhance traceability, availability and performance of the seeds.
-Organized preservation of the seeds ensuring sustainability.
-Increased income to the women group members.
-Encouraging the youth to take up farming of indigenous crops since they are more versatile in usage of internet. The CSBs would be used for training of the youth.
-Institutionalizing indigenous crops in the food chain hence enhancing food security and nutritional status in the country.
Long term Benefits
-Cottage industry processing various traditional food items therefore contributing to employment creation.
If you have any questions