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The Looming food crisis in Kenya resulting from Indigenous seed injustice

By Treezer Michelle Atieno

Seed sharing forms the culture and tradition  of many communities in Kenya. It has been key in sustaining local farming  communities and livelihoods for centuries. Seed is the source of life. It is critical in food production, nutrition, agricultural development, rural livelihoods, and agrobiodiversity.

Farmers across the globe have saved and exchanged indigenous seeds freely, for centuries.  However, in 2012, the government reviewed the Seed and Plant Varieties Act Cap 326. This Act of Parliament regulates transactions of seeds in the county. The review led to the inclusion of Section 10 subsection 4.

The Act in this section stops farmers from sharing, exchanging, or selling unregistered and uncertified seeds. This legislation punishes offenders with a prison sentence of up to 2 years or a fine of up to KES 1,000,000 or both.

If this law fully materializes, Kenya’s farmers will be knocked out of a self-sufficient system and be locked in a debt cycle by depending on seed companies for seed supply.

“This is a clear crime against smallholder farmers. Moreover, indigenous seeds are acclimated to the local climatic conditions and are likely to survive extreme weather conditions. They therefore increase the farmers’ ability to adapt to the climate crisis. “says Claire Nasike from Greenpeace Africa.

According to the Regional Access to Seeds Index for Eastern and Southern Africa, 90% of the seeds planted in Kenya are from informal seed systems. 80% of smallholder farmers in Kenya depend on informal seed systems which include sharing seeds with other farmers, selling and buying at local markets.

“Denying farmers, the right to use indigenous seeds is a biological threat which may translate to low food production leading to food and nutrition insecurity. Criminalizing their use exposes farmers and consumers to food insecurity associated with long periods of drought. ” adds Claire.

The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 recognises the existence of both indigenous seeds and indigenous knowledge about these seeds The Constitution and several international instruments place an obligation on Kenya to protect such rights.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAO labels indigenous seeds as critical for building viable and diverse crop populations. Barring their use leads to a decline in on-farm agricultural diversity that indigenous seeds make up.

FAO estimates that in the last 100 years about 75% of the world’s crop diversity has been lost. This means that further efforts are needed for the conservation, production, and sustainable use of indigenous seeds.

The punitive seed law in Kenya and other countries with such laws should also be amended to enable improved cultivars, availability of quality seeds, and improved yields which in turn will translate to food security in the county.

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