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  • Rashidah Namatovu

Small Scale Farmers Petition Government to Protect the Farmer Managed Seed System(FMSS)

In celebration of the farmer-managed seed system that employs 80% of small-scale farmers in Uganda, ESAFF Uganda organized a national seed caravan with integral events from the 24th to the 28th of October 2022. The primary aim of the caravan was to commemorate small-scale farmers' immense contribution to developing, managing, and conserving a wide range of seed varieties within and off-farm sources for generations. The seed caravan was launched in Adjumani, starring several activities that included the official launch of the Pakele community seed bank and showcasing indigenous seeds and foods organized by members of the different farmer field schools in participatory plant breeding and local food plants.

It is no secret that seed banks allow small-scale farmers to access a wide range of diversity for climate change adaptation and help them protect and conserve their local plant genetic diversity. The significant output of the launch of the seed bank was the emphasis on the need for farmers' seed varieties to be protected by the government through a petition presented to the local leaders in presence. Farmers urged that as much as there are the custodians of seed in the country, the legal frameworks do not support the production and distribution of quality seed of farmers' varieties even though the National Seed Policy (2018) recognizes the informal seed system in conserving the biodiversity of landraces.

Hon. Ben Anyama, the LC5 chairperson of Adjumani district, applauded small-scale farmers for their efforts in protecting their local diversity and appealed to the district technical staff to strengthen the small-scale farmers through enhancing their capacities in seed management and multiplication. He further urged the farmers to utilize the seed bank without contaminating the seed and look at avenues for economic advancement to improve their livelihoods. "I acknowledge this petition, and it is very viable to protect our local seed varieties from extinction and preserve our culture. I believe the government, while working with the technical personnel at the district, will ensure that we protect these varieties as asked by the small-scale farmers," He said.

Mrs. Joyce Adokorach from the Plant Genetic Resource Centre(PGRC) commended ESAFF Uganda for establishing several community seed banks to increase access to quality seed for small-scale farmers in the different regions of the county. She noted that as an entity they are responsible for documenting all genetic resources in the country and while working with communities they identify lost varieties of high value and conserve the most threatened or endangered species/varieties; take appropriate and effective measures to ensure that the plant genetic resources utilized have been accessed in accordance with the principle of Prior Informed Consent and respecting the mutually agreed terms. She further noted that they will work with community seed banks to ensure that varieties are well protected and conserved as mandated by the government.

As part of the caravan, an exchange learning visit was organized among small-scale farmers from different districts and farmer field schools in Amuria aimed at sharing experiences on participatory plant breeding. Small-scale farmers highlighted the immense knowledge and skills attained in taking crucial roles in breeding their preferred varieties that can meet their specific needs and also shared perspectives on how seed variety registration could play a key role in protecting the types they are breeding, especially under variety enhancement.

"For two seasons, we have been involved in participatory variety enhancement of our local variety of beans called obilangiti, and we have seen tremendous changes in yield and maturity period for some of the plants, meaning we are making progress. However, our biggest fear is that as much as we are central in doing these as farmers, can this variety belong to us without streamlined guidelines set up by the government through the Ministry of Agriculture that can guarantee that we are the sole owners." Etengu Stephen FFS facilitator Amuria district.

More activities included radio talk shows at Aulogo FM in Adjumani, Mega radio in Gulu, and Etop in Soroti. Representatives of small-scale farmers highlighted the farmer-managed seed system's role and need for local seed variety registration. Community engagements in Apac, Mbale, Iganga, Kamuli, Jinja, and Mukono were also part of the long week activities where small scale farmers shared their perceptions on registering their local seed varieties. During the engagement, the District Agriculture officer of Apac mentioned that petition has come at a critical time when different entities exploit many farmers' varieties. In contrast, the farmers do not know how and why this is happening. He called on the Ministry of Agriculture to take stalk of this as soon as possible to avoid the loss of wide other varieties from the communities.

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