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  • Naume Kalinaki

ESAFF Uganda launches another Community Seed Bank to increase SSFs’ access to good quality seeds

Climate change is a major challenge to agriculture production and hence a threat to food and nutrition security. The biodiversity of rural communities is under threat and several communities are losing out on the most valuable species. Community seed banks are key in the conservation of these Plant Genetic Resources (PGR) and can secure improved access to a variety of PGR as well as indigenous knowledge about the management of seed, especially with limited resources.

Nancy Mugimba, the National Coordinator, ESAFF Uganda noted that – “This year, ESAFF Uganda celebrates 20 years and today we are glad to officially open the Apac CSB which is one of the many that ESAFF Uganda has constructed. As an organization, our vision is to see empowered self-reliant small-scale farmers and we believe that our work in the district will help to advance farmers to higher positions in the agriculture sector where women and youth can have free access to agriculture financing, market information, and seed rights and land rights among others. I believe that this CSB will help this community to solve some of the challenges around access to quality seeds and strengthen the Farmer managed Seed system.’’

For many years, Community Seed Banks have been established all around the world and these are locally governed and managed, collective-action institutions, whose core function is to maintain seeds for local use. They have been designed to conserve, restore, revitalize, strengthen and improve plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

On the 1st of June, 2022, ESAFF Uganda officially opened another Community Seed Bank and unlike other CSBs, Apac Community Seed Bank holds a unique position as its biggest focus area is on conserving the Neglected and Underutilized Species (NUS). The CSB has over 100 different varieties of seed conserved under In-situ and Ex-situ conservation methods and with a target of over 300 varieties. Factors such as political instability, drought, poor storage facilities, hunger, poverty, and the increase of modern seed varieties have led to the loss of the indigenous varieties along with their knowledge and skills in seed selection and storage. These have left a negative impact on the rural farming communities.

The CSB was officially opened by Hon. Odongo Asanti (LC5 chairperson Apac District). He appreciated the contribution of ESAFF Uganda and its partners in supporting Apac district to achieve seed and food security. His worry was that most of the extension workers are conventional which affects the upscaling of agroecology in the district. He however pledged to allocate a part of the district budget towards activities on agroecology up scaling in the district and encouraged the local leaders to consume the NUS, especially during Council meetings, and encouraged extension workers to remain organic and support communities in transitioning to agroecology. Hon. Odongo Asanti asked small-scale farmers to extensively utilize the CSB and challenged ESAFF Uganda and partners to continue supporting small-scale farmers in the district.

Charles Opiyo, Seed Coordinator, Oxfam in Uganda who also graced the event said that – “As a community, we have the responsibility to feed ourselves and the people under our care; however, this can only be achieved if we strengthen our seed system to be more resilient. I, therefore, call upon the district local government to support the farmers; these hold a very valuable resource in the agriculture sector. In order to ensure sustainability, the Local government should radiate their support to schools too and closely work with the small-scale farmers considering that the lives of people depend on food and seed. We, therefore, need to realize that seed is the beginning point of food security.”

In order to control the rapid depletion of indigenous Plant Genetic Resources, there is a need to link Community Seed Banks to the National Gene Bank (NGB) since this has the capacity to preserve the PGR for a longer period. Moreover, through this, we shall ensure food and nutrition security, sustainable agriculture, and conservation of biodiversity.

Alele Gabriel from the PGRC also said that – “The Plant Genetic Resource Centre (PGRC) aims at optimizing the potential to achieve the SDGs and this starts with building collaborations with community seed banks. The CSBs play a big role in conserving germplasm which in return supports the country in achieving the national and global SDGs. The more seed banks we have in the country, the more genetic resources there are in the National Gene Bank. I, therefore, call upon the district, cultural and religious leaders to work hand in hand with the established Community Seed Banks and strengthen their relationship with the NGB. The PGRC is committed to supporting CSB around the country hence, I encourage you all to save your seed at both the Seed Banks and the NG.”

All through the event, it was noticed that small-scale farmers understand that seed is an important resource in the food system. Worldwide, we face major challenges in the food systems because of soil degradation, flooding, loss of biodiversity, malnutrition, and obesity. These come as a result of intensive farming that exploits the natural resources leading to conventional farming. In order to address all these, there is a need to embrace agro-ecological farming practices. CSBs are used to control the ecosystems for the future and to limit potential environmental degradation as a result of human mismanagement of resources. Local people understand their environment and have extensive knowledge of the resources within their local environment. Agroecology is the alternative of achieving sustainable food systems as it responds to food shocks and crises arising from conventional agriculture.

Moss Daniel, Agroecology Fund who also attended the official opening said that – “It breaks my heart that people from developed countries are trying to change the Africans’ perspective on traditional farming. These have gone ahead to commercialize Agriculture right before production and that is not right as it deprives African farmers of their right to indigenous food and seed. Because European countries are mainly into commercial farming, the cases of obesity are more common than in Africa. At this point, I believe Africa can teach the rest of the world how to feed. For generations, Africans have held dearly their indigenous knowledge on the preparation and conservation of their indigenous food and seed. As Agroecology Fund, our role is to ensure that if our governments are to help Africa, they should stop exporting chemicals to Africa. If we happen to have a chance to add value to our local resources without using chemicals, let us take that direction.”

Lately, food production mainly depends on attenuated plant resources thus reducing small-scale farmers’ choice of crops. This newly opened CSB will contribute to increasing the ability of small-scale farmers especially women in rural areas to make use of their traditional knowledge and innovation hence playing an important role in strengthening food security and the capacity of farming systems. The Apac Community Seed Bank will also ensure the availability of good seeds and genetic variability of crops so that they can adapt to the changing climatic conditions.

Small-scale farmers appreciated the community seed bank, Ebuu Martin, the ESAFF Apac district Chairperson said that – “If we are able to work together, it becomes easier for us to access most of the government programs since many of these target well-structured groups. The FFS work has drawn us closer to different like like-minded organizations many of which have supported us in implementing some of the activities like setting up kitchen gardens and educating us about nutrition among others. With support from our donors Oxfam, we have established 17 Farmer field Schools (10 on Nutrition and Local food plants and 7 on Participatory plant Breeding), we have the NUS networks and FFS networks in place, 1 community seed bank, and conduct cross-generation dialogues that aim at building and strengthening collaborations among the youth, women and local leaders. All these aims at improving seed and food sovereignty among small-scale farmers.’’

He further appreciated the secretariat for the support and guidance throughout the implementation of the Sowing Diversity equals Harvesting Security (SD=HS) project and called upon small-scale farmers to fully utilize the resources provided by ESAFF Uganda, the government, and other NGOs”

Masudio Margaret who represented the National Chairperson said that – “It is pertinent for us to have Agro ecology mainstreamed into policies and practices at all levels for improved nutrition, food security, and healthy food systems. I encourage all of us to practice Ecological Organic farming as it contributes to better soil stability hence making organic agriculture more resilient to the impacts of Climate Change. This will help us to create a safe environment for the coming generations. Well aware of the different government programs including the Parish Development Model (PDM), UWEP, and Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) among others, small-scale farmers have the opportunities to showcase the different approaches that they are using to promote their seed rights and food security.

MS. Margaret went ahead to appreciate all the leaders who have always responded to calls by small-scale farmers.

‘’I am glad to inform you that this Community Seed Bank is not limited to only ESAFF Uganda members but to all small-scale farmers in the district and beyond.”

The Apac Community Seed Bank becomes the fourth CSB constructed by ESAFF Uganda with support from district partners. ESAFF Uganda targets to construct more CSB in the different districts with membership in Uganda.

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