‘Harambee’ was a popular Swahili phrase used in Kenya after independence which meant pulling together. The community joined efforts to improve their social welfare. Togetherness was fundamental and each contributed to building the nation. As a result, many schools, roads, hospitals and houses were constructed in the’ Harambee spirit.’
Seed Savers has seen the benefits of involving farmers’ champions in the network and extension officers from like-minded organizations to strengthen farmers managed seed system. From past work experience, it was clear that various stakeholders needed capacity building on seeds related issues and gain practical exposure to enhance their work.
In efforts to contribute to this, Seed Savers developed short modules on various topics vital for strengthening farmers managed seed system for Farmers Champions and Farmers Trainers. This intends to amplify and strengthen on-farm seed saving countrywide. Seed Savers Network sees the approach as a driver of change and a cheaper model for reaching more farmers in Kenya.
The two training were held in March and April for farmers’ champions and Farmers trainers respectively. Participants came from 8 counties namely; Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, Garissa, Kisii, Nakuru, Kiambu, Nyandarua and Kakamega. Facilitators brought on board their expertise and shared their experience on farmers managed seed system.
Indeed, this was a mind-blowing exercise for the participants. The training was designed to ensure mindset change and develop farmers managed seed system ambassadors in various regions in the country. This called for commitment and attitude change for prosperity and transformation of farming communities in their respective areas.
Questions and ideas from participants re-energized Seed Savers team. It was evident that agro-biodiversity conservation forms an integral part of achieving food security in the country. Their experiential sharing enriched the training by acting as case studies. The saying that farmers are the best trainers to other farmers surely works.
The topic of Seed and Food Sovereignty raised a hot debate in the two training. Its diminishing space in Kenya followed a clear pattern. This was depicted by each facilitator from inside or outside Seed Savers Network. Participants termed their seed and food sovereignty as paramount for their survival. This was a new dawn in the farmers managed seed system and recognition of the responsibility of each citizen in safeguarding it gives hope for a foreseeable future.
When you mention the word piracy in Kenya, a picture of the music industry is created. This is to biopiracy which is a greater risk to food security. Safeguarding genetic materials owned by the indigenous farming community in Kenya requires attention too. This was well emphasized during the training and learners trained on Community Biodiversity Register. This moves hand in hand with efforts of strengthening farmers managed seed system by ensuring availability of the seeds freely without restrictions which will be difficult when they are privatized by individuals or institution due to Plant Breeders Rights (PBRS). This topic involved a practical where the participants did Four Cell Analysis for various local vegetables, characterization using Bioversity Farmers Knowledge Descriptor and Field Excursion to Kamathatha Women Self-Help Group’s Seed Bank. The concept of Open Source Seed System was highlighted as an alternative to Plant Breeders Rights.
The field visit helped the participants to interact with the farming community and learn on indigenous knowledge and seeds. The display outside their seed banks enriched their understanding of the need to develop the community Biodiversity Register in order to safeguard it. It was also a wake-up call for them to establish seed banks in their respective regions as a foundation for enhancing farmers managed seed system.
Local Food diversity prepared by the farmers showed the impact of farmers managed seed system in a community. The main dish called ‘Mukimo’ which was prepared using locally available food items; pigeon peas, pumpkin leaves and potatoes served with meat stew from a local goat. Porridge from sorghum and millet was served using a traditional calabash which gave a sense of culture and developed a social tie between the participants and the community. Eating local food is Seed Savers Network’s ideology for enhancing a sustainable food system.
Another critical area of training was on seed production and processing. Participants got essential knowledge and skills for enhancing farmers managed seed system. This was designed to have practical sessions. Over the years a lot of traditional knowledge on seed saving has been lost which necessitates the need to train various stakeholders on this subject. Without seed saving there will be no strong farmers managed seed system. Seed Savers anchors the training on traditional science of plant breeding for easy understanding and uptake by all in the community.
In cognition to the seed legal environment in Kenya, participants got an opportunity to learn and analyse various seeds legal frameworks locally and internationally. This was an area that government and non-government actors need to work on. Civic education to the farming communities requires to be incorporated in various extension programmes.
It was clear that in Kenya there is less public participation in the formulation of various agricultural legal framework and when done it is centralized which makes the participation of farmers difficult. Participants having gone through training understood their responsibility to mobilize and sensitize other farmers in their regions to attend and ensure that farmers’ rights are safeguarded
‘Knowledge is power,’ they say. The fruits of the training have started to form and in the long run Seed Savers Network will hold more. Participants continue to serve as Ambassadors and over 500 farmers have been trained in a span of 1 month after the training.20 new groups have been recruited and 1 seed bank established. For sure, farmers managed seed system will grower stronger if we all pull together.