Seeds at the display

‘Old is gold,’ they say. This was evident at Karunga Town Centre on 14th March 2019 during the Seed Fair. Local seed varieties grown and saved by custodian farmers for many years were showcased and caught many as a surprise. Coloured maize (red, purple, yellow, white), over 25 beans, 10 varieties of vegetables, various fruits and root tubers.

These developed a beautiful pattern on the tables which was a symbol of the nutritive richness of food diversity in the population after conserving agro-biodiversity. From a distance, one could follow their conversation after visiting various stands and it was evident that Seed Savers is impacting on their livelihood by strengthening Farmers Managed Seed System.

The event was held in March when farmers start sourcing seeds for planting in anticipation of the long rains. This gave them an opportunity for buying, sharing and exchanging seeds. These practices improve agro-biodiversity conservation by enhancing access for local seeds to the farming communities.

The seed Fair brought together 18 stakeholders and exhibitors; Civil Societies, public and private actors. These were; HIVOs, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Green Avera, Slow Food, Biovision Trust, Office of Member of County Assembly, Agatha Amani House, Ukulima Sacco, ADIL company among others. Farmers showcased their farm-saved seeds where some were packed and labelled Open Source Seed System.

Speaker after speaker emphasized the importance building capacity of farmers to be able to save their own seeds especially for crops neglected by the commercial seed sector. ‘It is difficult to find clean potato seeds and avocado seedlings in Nakuru County. I challenge seed savers Network to work more on this area,’ Mr Wachira from Ministry of Agriculture explained.

Anne Majani (HIVOs E.A-Kenya Office), Immaculate Yossa (HIVOs E.A-Uganda Office) and Nout Van Der Vaart (HIVOs Netherlands) explained to the participants regarding their Collaboration with Seed Savers on the Documentation for Underutilized Local Varieties in Nakuru project and its importance to the farming community. They also highlighted the concept of Open Source Seed System for the free use of seeds by farmers without restrictions.

Indeed, farmers are the best trainers! From a distance, one was wondering what a uniformed security guard and a middle-aged man wearing torn, repaired and dirty clothes were doing at the seed fair. To some, the man reminded them of the song ‘coat of many colours by Dolly Parton.’

At last, the questions were answered when Farmers from Kikopey Wakulima Self-help Group presented a play called ‘Masaibu ya Mkulima’ (Plight of farmers). The farmers wrote the script which highlighted various injustices from unfavourable seed laws which hinder access to farm-saved seeds. This was after various interactions and exposure by Seed Savers Network aimed at deepening their understanding of seeds related legal framework in Kenya.

The play also showed the challenges farmers face to obtain seeds provided by the commercial seed sector; high pricing and long distances to agro-shops. As a remedy to the solution, they sensitized participants on an alternative source of seeds through community seed banks. Participants were pleased and learnt so much on seed related legal framework which to some was new.

James Kagwe a participant from Naivasha shared his experience to Seed Savers Team.’ As a permaculture farmer am pleased to know Seed Savers Network. When you buy seeds it creates dependency. Seed saving solves this problem and encourages a regenerative culture which is at the core of permaculture.

This Seed Fair helped me obtain a local peas ‘Njogu ya Gikuyu’ which I lost its seeds like 20 years ago. I used to plant them at Nyandarua and have now been able to obtain it from farmers. I had a problem in accessing the seeds as they are not stocked in agro shops at my current area of farming in Naivasha. I also obtained broad beans and this system of saving seeds will encourage crop diversity,’ he said.

Peninah Ngahu from Gilgil says, ‘It was a historic day! I liked how farmers displayed their farm-saved seeds and the art of bringing people together. This creates a close social tie in the community. I am happy to have shared my bean seeds with farmers from Kikopey. Our group saved beans and maize seeds to farmers from Molo and Naivasha. In addition, our Seedbank obtained sunflower and chia seeds which we will multiply.’