Through our small-scale farmer’s group, “we are preserving local cassava seeds”

Groundnuts local seeds, Photo by ESAFF Uganda

Kampala: The 5th National Agroecology Actors’ Symposium (NAAS) on Tuesday, October 24, 2023, organized by Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Uganda brought together various stakeholders ranging from farmers, the private sector, research and academia, government institutions, non-government organizations, international organizations, media, and the general public to provide a platform for agroecology actors to share experiences and strategies for transforming food systems in Uganda and improving public policies.

The Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) Uganda organized a side event under the theme: “Strategies and opportunities for scaling up the Farmer Managed Seed Systems.” During the event, the participants discussed the different ways to preserve local seeds and how they are driving other community members to transition to Agroecology.

The different varieties of indigenous seeds, Photo by ESAFF Uganda

Speaking to one of the farmers in attendance; Brenda Akech is a small-scale farmer of Ilee B village, Teboke Parish in the Apac district supported by ESAFF. She says that they recently formed a small-scale farmers group to preserve their cassava local seeds and they are in pillar one.

Through the Sowing Diversity equals Harvesting Security (SD=HS) Program, ESAFF is implementing a Pillar one that focuses on farmers’ crop improvement and adaptation. Here the Farmer Field School (FFS) conducts participatory plant breeding.

The FFS chose cassava because of its contribution to food security but due to climate change, several varieties have been adopted that do not meet the community needs. As an FFS, they are conducting Farmer-based research on cassava and strongly believe they will be able to get a variety that is drought tolerant, gives high yield, and matures earlier.

Aketch is one of the 16 members. After ESAFF’s training, the FFS agreed on four cassava varieties namely “Ecilicil, Bao, Acikiyiro, and Elapo” whose seed was solicited from the FFS members and the neighboring communities. Among the four varieties, they found out that Ecilicil was the best variety as it met their desired objectives.

Some of the group members in their cassava garden in the Apac district 

According to Akech, the advantage of this Ecilicil variety is that you can rely on the stem and leaves where the leaves can be eaten as a sauce, the root tubers are food, and the stem’s outer covers are used as a local herb medicine. “You can boil it to cure your stomach pain whereas one takes it as tea without sugar.”

“So far we have distributed the seed among the 16 of us and what we are doing to maintain the seed. If you are in our community and you want one of the varieties you come to our group where we give you two stems which you can plant and multiply.”

However, Climatic Change has affected farmers all over the world due to changing seasons of drought, floods, and extreme weather events making it hard for them to harvest good yields.

Akech narrates how climate change has affected them in the past two seasons. “In the first season, we had low yields because of the scarcity of rain while in March we didn’t have any rain and you know most of our crops rely on the availability of water and the yield of the crop also relies on the fertility of the soil and when there is no fertility without rain there’s no way your crop will yield properly. So really we have been suffering with the issue of climatic change because we had a long period without rain in the district,” she explained

However, their crops were also attacked by pests and diseases. “See when there is rain there is the resistance of crops from diseases, and since we don’t have any other options for irrigation farming, we are having a lower yield already that we are still expecting lower yields”

As a group, they made an effort to inspect their planted cassava every two weeks on how it was progressing looking at the leaves, stem, and roots. “But recently when we checked, the roots were not growing big in size because we had no rain.”

One of the group members checking the root tubers

However, Akech is grateful to be part of ESAFF farmers as she has benefited a lot through acquiring new knowledge on how to preserve their different local seeds.

“I have benefited a lot because I didn’t know much about Agroecology, or about the different varieties of cassava that we plant now but as a farmer it has enlightened me and encouraged me to protect my environment,’’ she appreciated

“When I look around my village, the youth are degrading our environment, but with the help of ESAFF Uganda, I have been empowered as a youth to sensitize and enlighten other youths to join hands together to protect our environment. It’s not all about brick laying that you can get money, but we can empower each other to promote our environment as a youth,” she added

In August 2022, these small-scale farmers decided to integrate cassava growing with rearing local birds where they at least invest, and empower each other rather than rely on agriculture but bring in poultry so that they can have protein and carbohydrates in their diet. However, this integration means that their sources of income will be increased among their small-scale businesses.

Some of the types of birds being reared

Charles Opiyo, Resilient Livelihood Manager, Oxfam in Uganda, a panelist of the day discussed the importance of protection of farmers’ seed varieties in the food system. “When we talk about farmer-managed seed systems, we are simply referring to the different ways in which farmers access, maintain, or sustainably use the seeds or the genetic materials that they have in their communities.”

According to Opiyo, the topic of farmer variety registration of users should be an area of interest that everybody not only small-scale farmers should pay attention to because it’s the farmer-managed seed systems that form the foundation of the country’s food sovereignty, security, nutrition, and all other benefits that are related to it.

Opiyo also said that when it comes to farmer-managed seeds, the issue of accessibility and availability is key because if we’re talking of strategies of how we can mitigate or even adapt to climate change, some other practices like timely planting are important.

Another key aspect that justifies the need to support or even promote farmer-managed systems is the issue of diversity as it would strengthen the aspect of the resilience of the seed system being part of the bigger food system.

“And the benefits of diversity that the farmer-managed system offers, even transcend to the area of nutrition. We heard about the promotion of the use of local food plants that is possible. I think the last time I checked we had 35 formal seed companies that are registered, and I look at the percentage of the farmers or people who are doing production, their seed demand is largely met by the farmer-managed seed system. The formal seed companies or sector only supply I think 20% of the seed demands and this demand is not even diverse, it’s only concentrated especially on crop, which offers a high-profit margin because they are profit-oriented companies. So I think in terms of diversity, we can reap several benefits if we support the farmer-managed seed system,” he explained

A type of indigenous bean seeds, Photo by ESAFF Uganda

John Lodungokol, Assistant Commissioner of Crop Production at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries Uganda shared insights into the role of stakeholders in ensuring the protection of farmers’ seed varieties, where he said that the government must expand the regulatory mechanisms, those frameworks that need to make this farmer-managed-seed a priority. “I’m happy now the government has scaled down this production of the indigenous seeds to the National Agricultural Research Organizations based at Subsidies to develop a variety zonal seed which is indigenous,” he said

He also hinted at the need to create awareness about the existence, production, and protection of the seeds because these are not taken as commercial in one way or the other. They are not known of their availability by every farmer in the village because their seed has been shifted and changed with the other seed which is moving. We need to do that by ensuring we do profiling of farmer-led managed seeds per zone.

“For example, if I went to the government offices, to the data, to the Agricultural Statistics now we’re saying that we are going indigenous, can I be able to see a list of seeds which are indigenous and varieties that are made in Northern, Eastern Uganda that I can go and buy and also look for one of their suppliers who has that list that can do well in my district. You see, that database we need it. That is our role as government and stakeholders to have access to that data and information on how to improve the seed system which is managed by the people,” he added
















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