In 2009 Daniel Wanjama and his four colleagues left their jobs at the Ministry of Agriculture to start the Seed Savers Network, a non-profit agro-diversity social enterprise based in Gilgil, Nakuru County to promote environmentally free access to seeds by farmers.

According to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, the informal seed sector in Kenya accounts for about 60-70 per cent of most seeds planted by farmers across the country. In this, farmers recycle seeds from previous harvests thereby denying them the chance to maximize yields.

“We did our own survey in five villages in Gilgil with sample farmers and found many challenges that they encountered like low prices, low-quality products, oversupply leading to wastage in the farming of traditional crops such as arrowroots, cassava, sweet potato vines and cereals,” said Daniel.

With skills acquired in his previous career in the ministry, the four implemented their idea to educate farmers on a variety of services including seed bulking, seed multiplication, seed selection, small-scale seed bank development, among others that would see farmers in the region grow different types of crops chemical free.

“After farmers harvest seeds, we normally sort the best grains from the weak ones and thereafter preserve them with diatomaceous dust, a pesticide and agent that absorb moisture and keeps the seeds dry,” said Daniel.

Farmers preparing sweet potato vines for planting

This type of farming ensures the conservation of natural resources (land, water and air) by ensuring no environmental pollution by use pesticides. This involves training of farmers on the use of organic bio-pesticides formulation, liquid manure and vermin compost to minimize the use of external inorganic farm inputs such as urea or diammonium phosphate.

“Through agro-biodiversity, we established that indigenous foods such as yams, arrow roots, cassava among others were almost going into extinct and thus it was necessary conserving them by showing farmers how to do it for free,” said Daniel.

The process comprises saving quality seeds from their farms in a bank and identifying the best seeds for a certain region.

The network gets their resources for training, workshops, practical’s and agricultural lesson, seeds buying and planting materials through local and International grants like the Government of Kenya, Tudortrust, Kenya Food Rights Alliance (KEFRA) among other organizations.

They have so far trained more than 50,000 farmers across Kenya. They also train the youths through mobilization and believe that due to the high rise of population food will be scarce hence need to venture into agro-biodiversity.

According to World Bank, Kenya’s population is growing at a rate of 2.5 per cent annually.

“We believe in a bright and healthy future of the population thus the success of plants and animal biodiversity practices lies in today’s youth and that is why we are relentlessly reaching out to more youth groups and individuals to train them on the importance of seed and biodiversity preservation,” he said.

However, they encounter some challenges like biopiracy; exploiting their genetic material from the farmers without paying compensation of patents by some foreign organizations.

“We need to keep away from philosophical ideas on farming and put the right practices and research in crops conservation for our people,” said Daniel.

Interested farmers can contact Daniel on +254 712 451 777

Written by Gerald Njihia