Seeds are the basis of agriculture, carriers of the genetic makeup of plants and the soul of food systems. In Kenya, over 80% of seeds used by smallholder farmers are sourced from ‘informal’, or farmer-managed seed systems. For generations, farmers have been managing seed and propagating plant materials through on-farm conservation, maintenance, and selection for diversity. They save, re-use, exchange, and sell seeds amongst family, neighbors, and communities to produce the bulk of their food consumed. Access to and maintenance of crop genetic diversity has huge benefits, including the provision of ecosystem services, diet diversification, and improved adaptation to changing market demands.
However, smallholder farmers face increasing difficulties in accessing, using, and multiplying seeds. Farmer-managed seed systems are under pressure from the commodification and commercialization of seeds through exclusive intellectual property rights, such as patents and breeders’ rights. Free and open access to seeds is key to sustaining and strengthening farmer-managed seed systems and improving food security, and can be considered a crucial element to advance agricultural biodiversity and climate resilience for smallholder farmers and their communities. These farmers, through a diverse spectrum of farmer-saved seed varieties, play a key role in producing food and in preserving agricultural biodiversity.
Farmer Training Centre
Agricultural extension would be an expensive, if not impossible, undertaking if all small scale farmers were to be reached through conventional outreach programs. With authorisation from the National Industrial Training Authority, Seed Savers Network has established a training centre that focuses on training the trainers. Farmers and workers within the agroecology space are taken through tailor made trainings and awarded certificates. The training centre is next to Lake Elementaita in Gilgil and provides accommodation and conferencing facilities within the green environment of our demonstration garden. The demonstration garden exemplifies how agroecological principles are used to create thriving kitchen gardens and food forests. The training centre also provides accommodation to volunteers and interns from Kenya and abroad.
Farmers Training Farmers
SSN uses a farmer to farmer extension model to train farmers on agroecology and facilitate the spread and adoption of seed saving, regenerative farming practices, and food sovereignty ideals. This capacity-building model leverages farmer’s traditional knowledge and information and builds on local conditions and practices already known to farmers. Contrary to a top-down approach, this inclusive, low-cost model has a multiplier effect that ensures the successful introduction of agroecological practices in rural areas to ensure sustainable livelihoods.
Community Seed Banking
Industrial agriculture has created groups of plants with less original genetic material that may be more susceptible to new diseases and pests. Kenya has a national seed gene bank dedicated to preserving a population’s crop species and supports community seed banks, which store regional and heirloom seeds. Community seed banks provide a quality source of native seeds, which is especially important in the event of crop disasters. Currently, farmers may fail to plan for the planting season due to a lack of seed-saving practices, overconsumption of seeds meant for planting, crop failure, unavailability of seeds, or financial constraints to purchasing seeds. Seed banks can allow farmers to secure seeds with rules of access to avoid the consumption of seeds or selling of grains before the planting season begins.
Gender Mainstreaming with Agroecology
Women are recognized as the main custodians of seed as they manage the preservation, diversity, selection and storage of seed in most if not all African communities. Many of these activities are not defined as “economically active employment” in national accounts but they are essential to the well-being of rural households. Despite women’s central roles as food, seed and care providers in rural communities, many continue to experience rights violations and lack of agency, self-confidence and a sense of control over their own lives.
Seed Savers Network Kenya is committed to shift the cultural attitudes and structures that limit women, creating space for them to take control of their own lives, advocate for themselves and others, and take on leadership within their communities and beyond through agroecology and seed saving.
Farmers' Rights Advocacy
Seed Savers Network has been at the forefront in engaging with stakeholders in ensuring that the right of farmers to food and nutritional security, seeds, and associated traditional knowledge is safeguarded.
We empower farmers to amplify their voice by providing them with outlets in the mainstream media and other possible forums.