KENYA – Stakeholders in the food system value chain have called for a review of the Seed and Plant Varieties Act to allow farmers to share indigenous seeds.

Speaking during the opening ceremony of the second Indigenous Seeds and Food Culture harvest fair on 11th October, Anne Maina, the Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya National Coordinator called on the need to ease restrictions hindering the circulation of indigenous varieties.

The two-day Indigenous Seeds and Food Culture Harvest fair is running under the theme “Celebrating food and Seed sovereignty in Kenya: reclaiming and protecting our food and farming systems while nourishing our health and sustaining our future” at the National of Kenya Museum in Nairobi.

The fair is organized by the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) in collaboration with the National Museum of Kenya (NMK), Biodiversity and Biosafety Kenya (BIBA) Kenya, Inter-Sectoral Forum on Agroecology and Agro Biodiversity (ISFAA), Africa Biodiversity Network (ABN), HIVOs, Seed Savers Network (SSN) and Heinrich Boll Foundation (HBF).

According to Maina, the current Act curtailed the sharing of indigenous seeds and instead impacted negatively by increasing the seed import bills to the country.

Indigenous seed varieties are rich in nutritious value compared to exotic imports to bolster the country’s food systems, she noted.

Maina revealed that the current Act discourages the use of indigenous seeds which have cultural and historical significance for peasant farmers in rural villages, hence she challenged state actors to earmark budgetary allocation for indigenous seed banks.

“Some policies in the Seed and Plant Varieties Act prohibited the selling of uncertified seeds with punitive penalties for the person found liable who may pay a fine of up to one million shillings or a two-year jail term thereby technically locking out the indigenous varieties from the market” she decried.

Call for an Indigenous Seed Resource Center

Maina has called upon the government to consider establishing an indigenous seed bank as a matter of priority in the budgetary allocations to encourage the propagation of such varieties and the practice of organic farming to reduce the cost of food production.

According to her, although the government had put up a genetic resource center, there was a need to expand the scope to factor in the input of smallholder farmers who are establishing community seed learning centers and seed farms.

The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization Deputy Director Crops Dr, Felista Makini said indigenous seeds and traditional African crops have created so much interest over the years because of their high nutrition and their resilience to climate change and drought.

KALRO houses the Genetic Resources Research Institute (GeRRI) institute that safeguards traditional seeds and prevents the loss of genetic resources

The gene bank is based in Muguga, Kiambu County, and has amassed a collection of over 50,000 different plant species that are sourced from farmers around the country.

Rosina Mbenya from PELUM Kenya stressed that it was critical that stakeholders play a role in ensuring that the seeds we already have are protected.

“We applaud our farmers and we need to continue encouraging the small-scale farmers who are at 80 percent as they play a very critical role in this country of feeding us and also saving their seeds”, she said.

Dr. Gloria Otieno, a genetic resources and food security policy specialist said that traditional seeds were important for climate change adaptation because they do well sustainably without pesticides and fertilizers that destroy the environment.

She added that they have been working with farmers to conserve seeds to restore the lost diversity of sorghum from gene banks in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania

According to the expert, they have tested these seeds with farmers through participatory variety testing that has seen the conservation of at least 67 varieties of beans, 23 varieties of sorghum, and 10 varieties of finger millet which were performing well under drought and heat stress.