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  • Naume Kalinaki

Are the farmers' seed varieties ready for recognition?

Genetic resources for food and agriculture are fundamental elements that the world relies on to enhance agricultural productivity and quality, while also preserving the populations of native species in a healthy state. Hence, the preservation and sustainable exploitation of genetic resources for food and agriculture play a crucial role in ensuring food security and nutrition. Around 80% of the people in Uganda is employed in the agriculture sector, which is responsible for generating 98% of the food consumed in the country. Nevertheless, as the consequences of climate change intensify, the capacity to generate sufficient food is diminishing, posing a threat to the country's food and nutrition security. This necessitates the implementation of further environmentally-friendly farming methods, the restoration and advancement of agricultural practices, and the acknowledgement of crop types that are adaptable to climate change, particularly those derived from farmer-managed seed systems.

In recent years, the inclusion of farmers' varieties in national and regional seed catalogues as objects of seed control has generated intense controversy at the local, national, and international levels. Small-scale farmers have played a crucial role in advancing, overseeing, and safeguarding a wide array of crop types. However, existing seed rules at the national level tend to prioritise crop varieties generated through the formal seed system. Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) acknowledges the valuable contributions made by farmers in conserving and advancing plant genetic resources. It emphasises that it is the duty of national governments to safeguard the rights of farmers, taking into account their specific requirements and preferences.

Most African farmers acquire seeds through informal means, such as using seeds preserved from their own farms, participating in seed exchanges, or purchasing from local marketplaces. These routes contribute around 80-100% of the seed supply, depending on the crop and country. Although these systems have significant value, governments seldom provide support for them, offering minimal or no acknowledgment in seed programmes. Furthermore, there is limited assistance for the replication, adaption, marketing, and utilisation of farmers' varieties. This adversely affects agricultural production and the revenue of farmers, especially those who depend on cultivating local (farmer) varieties. It hinders their ability to obtain high-quality seeds from these kinds.

Food security and sovereignty is heavily dependent on diversity, making it an essential factor. Unfortunately, small-scale farmers that actively preserve biodiversity face marginalisation. Their endeavours remain unacknowledged by multiple stakeholders, including governments, researchers, academia, and policymakers, among others. Due to the escalating environmental alterations, breeders and researchers have been driven to cultivate varieties that are suitable for the present environment, and primary plant genetic resources (PGR) are consistently acquired from small-scale farmers. Although not officially acknowledged, farmers' varieties are nonetheless utilised to develop new types, undermining the conservation efforts of small-scale farmers. Despite meeting the fundamental criteria for recognition, farmers' cultivars are not widely acknowledged, resulting in their lower popularity.

ESAFF Uganda recently collected the voices of some small-scale farmers who have been preserving farmer seed varieties to highlight the contributions made to the preservation of biodiversity. ESAFF Uganda, in collaboration with Oxfam in Uganda, PELUM Uganda, and NARO PGRC, supported by SeedNL, is now undertaking a project to gather narratives that provide evidence for the importance of acknowledging farmers' varieties. This initiative aligns with the ongoing global discourse surrounding the identification of these agricultural variations. Over the past five years, we have collaborated closely with small-scale farmers in Nebbi, Adjumani, Omoro, Apac, Amuria, and Soroti districts through the Sowing Diversity Equals Harvesting Security (SD=HS) programme. This programme has engaged farmers in conducting their own research and developing crop varieties that align with their preferences, particularly in promoting food and nutrition security.

The enforcement mechanisms of the FAO Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture have been insufficient, resulting in the failure to uphold farmers' rights to save, utilise, trade, and sell farm-saved seeds and other propagating materials. Throughout the course of this process, it ultimately results in a reduction of financial resources and the variety of living organisms, posing a threat to the country's ability to ensure a stable food supply and the well-being of the world population as a whole. For numerous centuries, small-scale farmers have served as the guardians of indigenous seeds. As per the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, these individuals have not received any financial gains from the utilisation of these seeds by researchers, breeders, and policymakers. Recognition of farmer varieties and their role in preserving biodiversity is long overdue.



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