Farmers Demand for the Protection of Locally Grown Seeds as they are Fundamental to Food Sovereignty
Seed is the basic unit of life. Small-scale farmers are struggling to protect their own local seed varieties as big corporations use their power and influence to patent the Genetically Modified Organisms. Plants grown from different seed varieties often adapt to local conditions in ways that can help them to deal with mass floods, drought, high temperatures and soil salinity. Hence, locally grown heritage seeds are fundamental to food sovereignty and local production, as well as seed sharing and freedom.
The climax event of the seed caravan was a side event during the National Agroecology Actors' Symposium(NAAS) held on the 27th October 2022 at Silver Springs Hotel under the theme "Seed systems and Agroecology". During this engagement, many stakeholders were involved including officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, private sector, small-scale farmers, academia and media among others. The side session on seed systems and agroecology was the closing event of the 5 days seed variety registration spearheaded by small-scale farmers from various districts in Uganda. The event created a platform for small-scale farmers to share their perspectives on the current seed system crisis in the country and the need for transformation by protecting the farmer managed seed system spearheaded by the government and the Ministry of Agriculture.
During the side session, Charles Opiyo from Oxfam in Uganda, said that small-scale farmers have the opportunity or right to use their seeds as they produce only 80% of seeds in Uganda and 95% of seeds globally and called for the protection of farmers’ seed varieties. “We have to ensure that the food system is equitable, inclusive and environmentally friendly. I believe that small-scale farmers are the only producers of quality seeds”. Mr. Opiyo said
“Seed variety has a lot of health benefits particularly, in developing countries where many people suffer from malnutrition due to a poor diet”. Said Achan Winfred, a small-scale farmer leader from Amuria district. According to her, small-scale farmers' access to diverse crops are destroyed by the fertilizers and pesticides used to grow GMO crops. This jeopardizes their capacity to adapt crop breeding to their shifting needs and the environment brought on by climate change in the country.
Masudio Margaret, a small-scale farmer from Adjumani district said that small-scale farmers’ food security is dependent on the variety and availability of seeds. She added that there is need for registration of small-scale farmers’ seeds in the Community Seed Banks before linking them to the gene banks. She noted that ESAFF Uganda constructed and equipped 4 Community Seed Banks in Uganda that is facilitating seed storage and exchange in farming communities. “There is need for Government to support the establishment and equipping of the Community Seed Banks in the different regions to strengthen small-scale farmers’ production capacities” Margaret said.
However, during the side session, small-scale farmers presented some of the challenges they are facing in protecting their seed systems including difficulties in having control over seeds, especially by women small-scale farmers, small-scale farmers not being involved extensively in research by the researchers, researchers are using small-scale farmers’ varieties and small-scale farmers are not being recognized and the influx of poor-quality seeds by the agro-dealers in the farming communities.
According to Christine Nabwami, a small-scale farmer leader from Mityana district, there is need for mindset change. She noted that there is need to use media to sensitize small-scale farmers and other stakeholders about farmer seed varieties because some small-scale farmers are being brainwashed but small-scale farmers are able to produce quality seeds.
Albert Obuoja, a small-scale farmer leader from Adjumani district called for creation of an enabling policy environment for the protection of small-scale farmers’ seed systems. He noted that managing seed diversity is important for maintaining good health and cultural diversity.
Small scale farmers further proposed that the Government should build linkages between small-scale farmers, community seed banks and the National gene bank, and research institutions to respond to the needs of small-scale farmers, recognize farmer varieties purely based on distinctiveness, not uniformity and stability, because of possible continuous segregation of some lines and, in the same spirit, repel the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) on seed to improve access and control of seed, especially for small-scale farmers. Further was for the government to reject the introduction of GMOs into our food systems in Uganda and ensure that laws and policies are developed to protect farmer-managed seed systems.
Government should further strengthen small-scale farmer groups that are actively conserving biodiversity in Uganda and develop guidelines for building stronger linkages between small-scale farmers, Community Seed Banks, and the National gene bank.