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Seed networks for climate change adaptation in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania

In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, women farmer networks are stronger than those of male farmers, meaning that more women are connecting to each other and creating longer chains of seed exchange than men. Photo: R. Vernooy (Bioversity)
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Jun 25, 2018


Tobias Recha (Bioversity International) and John Recha (CCAFS)


Info Notes describe strategies to improve access to genetic diversity and information.

Farmers often manage, select, and conserve genetic diversity according to their needs, but climate change is quickly eroding this genetic diversity. Therefore, accessing genetic resources and related information is paramount to farmers’ ability to cope with the effects of climate change.

Farmer seed networks are an important element of seed access because they are resilient and work to maintain and conserve crop genetic diversity. These seed networks are believed to supply about 80% of seeds to farmers in Kenya, 85% of seeds to Ugandan farmers and 85% of seeds to farmers in Tanzania.

Research in East Africa has suggested that community-generated information sharing might support more effective farmer response to the changing seasonal and weather patterns associated with climate change.

Bioversity International, with support from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), carried out studies in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to better understand farmers’ primary sources of seed and information in the Climate-Smart Villages (CSVs) in those countries.

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Social Seed Networks for Climate Change Adaptation in Kenya

Social Seed Networks for Climate Change Adaptation in Uganda Social Seed Networks and Climate Change Adaptation in Central Tanzania

Data was collected through household surveys from about 1000 households in total in the three countries, and from farmers through focus group discussions with 120 farmers in Uganda. The surveys collected various farm- and individual-level data on household demographics; sources of bean, millet and sorghum seeds and their networks for access and exchange; sources of information on adaptation to climate change; and the varieties that are widely used for climate change adaptation.

UCINET software was used to conduct a social seed network analysis, illustrating how information is transmitted through farmer networks and how seed is accessed and exchanged among smallholders.

Sources of seeds and information among farmers

A high percentage of seeds in Kenya come from informal sources: ‘own seed’ (55%), followed by local market (37%), neighbours (25%), farmer groups (24%), and seed companies (15%). The most common sources of seed information were field days (68%) and agricultural shows (50%). In Uganda, the respondents reported ‘own seed’ as their main seed source (78%), then local markets (48%) and neighbours (12%). The main sources of seed information were radio talks (71%), agricultural research stations (54%), and agricultural shows (49%). Respondents in Tanzania reported ‘own seed’ as their main seed source (67%), followed by neighbours (24%), local markets (21%), and extension services (17%). Approximately 34% of Tanzanian respondents were affiliated with an agriculture-related organization.

Betweenness of seed exchange between male and female farmers

In all three countries, female farmers’ networks were stronger than those of male farmers, meaning that more women actors are connecting with each other, creating longer chains of seed exchange.

Policy implications

Based on the analyses, climate-related challenges have not only led to genetic erosion but also to the narrowing of choices farmers can make for adaptation to climate change. Most respondents indicated that they had experienced climate-related challenges.

Acknowledging the needs of farmers that result from climate challenges is crucial in applying adaptive strategies, especially for women farmers as they are critical in providing household food and nutrition security. Because women’s networks were larger and more connected, they could also be used to distribute seed and information.

The reliance of farmers on ‘own seed’ and the networks that are relatively disjointed make it difficult for farmers to access more seed. Management and conservation of genetic resources are often based on collective decisions; the disjointed networks display a lack of collective decisions in the management of these resources.

Establishing a community seed bank in this site would help to improve the collective decisions in the management and conservation of genetic diversity for adaptation to climate change. Community seed banks are repositories of local genetic diversity that is often adapted to prevailing climate conditions, including biotic stresses.

Finally, strengthening informal seed networks and building connections between the formal and informal sectors, such as community seed banks and breeding programmes and national gene banks, can be crucial in providing farmers with a diversity of adapted seeds.

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