How community seed banking strengthens adaptive capacity: Experiences from a farmers exchange visit

Farmer exchange visit in Nyando. Farmers share and exchange seed genetic resources through community seed banking for adapting to the changing climate. Photo: P. Kimeli (CCAFS)

Farmer communities exchange knowledge and experience on open source seed systems and in-situ conservation through community seed banking.

On 24 July, a total of 170 farmers and researchers gathered  in the Nyando Climate-Smart Villages (CSVs) in Kisumu County, Kenya. The gathering was an exchange visit where farmers from Hoima and Sheema districts in Uganda, and Nakuru and Vihiga Counties in Kenya visited Nyando CSVs to exchange knowledge on climate-smart agriculture with farmers from Kisumu and Kericho Counties of western Kenya. The trip was organized by partners in a 2016-2019 project titled “Promoting open source seed systems for beans, sorghum, finger millet and forages for climate change adaptation in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda”, funded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Benefit-Sharing Fund of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture - ITPGRFA.

The farmer exchange visit and capacity development initiative in Nyando aimed at building the capacity of farmers to understand the importance of open source seed systems and in-situ conservation through community seed banking. It also aimed at sharing and exchanging genetic resources through community seed banking.

Farmer Joy Mugisha of Uganda’s Kiziba community seed bank was a key resource person. She demonstrated to farmers the processes of establishing a community seed bank, maintaining diversity and managing the seed bank. She further informed Nyando farmers about the roles of a seed bank as follows:

  • Conserving seeds of local crop varieties within the community
  • Facilitating capacity building of farmers and communities in the production of high quality seed
  • Multiplying seeds of local varieties that are rare and unique or which are becoming less available to farmers, and making them available every season
  • Useful in assessing diverse materials for different functional traits such as early maturity or drought tolerance
  • Providing diverse seeds of good quality that have potential to adapt to climate change
  • Developing a local seed business to raise income for the sustainability of the gene bank.

Joy’s Kiziba community seed bank in Uganda was established in 2010 in Sheema district of western Uganda. Currently, the community seed bank serves about 1,000 farmers in 10 villages. The community seed bank has begun collecting seeds from farmers in the neighboring villages and regenerating planting material that can be stored in the community seed bank to provide diversity. To ensure a sustained supply of seed, farmers who borrow seeds from the community seed bank return double the amount after harvesting. Each farmer is trained in seed production and management to ensure that the seed received in the community seed bank is of good quality.

The farmers from Uganda and Kenya came with a variety of seeds of cereals, legumes, and vegetables. Each of the groups put their seeds on display and the diversity of seeds for each group was assessed by a panel of judges.

The visit was an important experience for farmers. As Hellen Were, a farmer from Kisumu County explains:

We had heard of seed banks from CCAFS staff before but we understood the concept only after this exchange visit. As soon as we were taught, we were very eager to start one in our community because the women in Nyando have been multiplying seed for years, but keeping the seed individually in our homes that could affect their viability,” said Hellen.

These types of exchange visits often instill a sense of purpose and enthusiasm among farmers as they are able to see, first hand, the results of using CSA practices. The Nyando event ended with two major action points based on demand from Nyando farmers:

  • Establishing a seed bank in Nyando that would serve the farmers in Kisumu and Kericho Counties. The participatory process will be guided by a manual developed by Bioversity International: Community Seed Banks Concept and Practice: Facilitator Handbook.
  • More training on different aspects of climate change adaptation for women farmers.

See the photos from the exchange visit:

John Recha is a Post-Doctoral Fellow - Participatory Action Research at CCAFS East Africa.