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State urged to relax rules for sale of traditional vegetable seeds

Indigenous vegetables. PHOTO | KBC

Agriculture stakeholders are calling on the government to allow farmers to trade Traditional Leafy Vegetables (TLVs) in order to increase their accessibility and enhance economic empowerment especially among small holder farmers in the country.

While varieties like black night shade (managu), spider plant (sagetti), amaranth (terere), and others are common delicacies for communities in Kenya, access to the seeds remains a challenge.

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The stakeholders argue that farmers have for decades been custodians of these and other indigenous seeds that are passed one generation to the other.

However, while there is need to share the same to other farmers, the Seed and Plant Varieties Act, restricts farmers’ ability to share, exchange or sell seeds which are not certified by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS).

“If farmers are not allowed to exchange and sell seeds, it means that indigenous vegetables are soon going to get extinct,” said Evans Ochuto, a farmer from Vihiga, adding, “We are worried that the next generations will barely find any indigenous seeds,”

In the hands of communities in Vihiga, he noted there are over 56 varieties of TLVs seeds preserved at Vihiga Community Seed bank and Nutrition Center. Ochuto wants farmers to be allowed to distribute these varieties within the county and beyond, as a way of promoting biodiversity and better nutrition.

“The laws that govern seed industry at the moment are designed in favor of the commercial sector at the expense of small holder farmers,” said Daniel Wanjama, coordinator at Seed Savers Network .

While the laws dictate that only certified seeds should be sold, he added, certification is a long and expensive process and that, kicks out small holder farmers.

TLVs, he noted are localized among communities and the seed sector has not found them profitable thus there has not been commercialization on the same.

Wanjama called for policies that allow farmers to sell indigenous seeds, saying this would be a liberalization of not only the seeds, but also food industry.

While working on diet improvement in Vihiga a few years ago, experts realized that while farmers were keen on growing and consuming TLVs, access to seeds was a major setback.

What was available in local market had challenges either due to low yield or low germination rate.

“We trained farmers on how to produce own seeds and save the same. We also supported in establishment of the Vihiga Community Seed bank and Nutrition Center,” said Dr. Celine Termote, Team Leader, Food Environment and Consumer Behavior at The Alliance.

Kenya, she added, should learn from other countries like Uganda where farmers’ seeds are legally acceptable under the Quality Declared Seeds (QDS) umbrella.

This way, she added, farmers are allowed to register and sell seeds which are not necessarily 100 percent stable or uniform as QDS.

Although the informal sector accounts for 80 percent of Kenya’s seed system, she noted, it is largely criminalized. “We would like to come up with a complimentary system, that harmonizes the seed sector in favor of farmers while still allowing traders in the sector to do their work,” said Dr. Celine, adding, “It is much better to work towards bringing quality into the farmer-managed seed sector than do nothing,”

As a way of promoting agro ecology including indigenous seeds, Vihiga County government is in the process of formulating an agro ecology policy.

This will be the second county in the country with such a policy from Murang’a, where the policy was launched earlier in the year.

“In Vihiga, the policy is at the stage of being subjected to public participation,” said the County Director of Agriculture, Reuben Chumba.

The document, he added, prominently emphasizes on organic farming, crop insurance, seeds saving, contract farming, regenerative agriculture among other aspects.

He called on farmers and other stakeholders to aggressively promote conservation of neglected crops, some of which are at the blink of getting lost.

At the end of the workshop, participants came up with among other recommendations, a revision of the seed laws to allow for the registration and commercialization of farmer varieties especially TLVs. They also called for recognition of the that role farmers play in conservation and management of these TLVs.

Benson Rioba
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