By Victoria Nampala Bugembe
In Uganda, a scarcity of desirable and high-quality plant genetic resources continues to constrain smallholder agriculture and risk food and nutritional security, especially as the environment changes.
Most Ugandans are small-scale farmers who use farm-saved seed procured through Farmer-Managed Seed Systems (FMSS), which are underfunded in regulations and research.
According to Masudio Margarete, a small-scale farmer leader, farmers do not know how to keep or select seeds. To make matters worse, many do not know whether they are keeping seeds or grains.
Masudio guides that, FMSS is essential for providing food security and improved nutrition in farming communities.
Farmer seed systems include a variety of attempts to maintain, improve, use, and disseminate genetic materials outside of established breeding and commercial production systems.
Farmer seed systems encompass an array of concepts, including a source of diverse germplasm; the reintroduction of marginalized and underutilized indigenous crop varieties; biodiversity conservation and maintenance; breeding, including variety selection and enhancement; seed production; and seed storage and management.
Hakim Baliraine Chairperson, of Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) Uganda says that Seed has become a “commercial proprietary resource” due to technical advances, market manipulations, and shifting regulations and legal systems.
As a result of the introduction of modern agriculture, small-scale farmers are no longer active producers and have become passive consumers of industrial commodities, including seeds.
This has resulted in farmers losing control over their productive resources and production processes, making them targets of private ownership and consumption and increasing financial and ecological expenses.
He further urges that when agroecology is linked with the concept of food sovereignty, which refers to each farming community’s rights and resources to determine its own food systems, it gives farmers the liberty to access, develop, control, and exchange their seed varieties.
Charles Opiyo, Programme Officer- Food Security & Nutrition at Oxfam Uganda adds that there is a need to protect the farmer’s seed varieties in the food system for diversity. This is because small-scale farmers are struggling to protect their own local seed varieties as big corporations use their power and influence to patent GMOs.
However, plants grown from different seed varieties often adapt to local conditions that can help them deal with floods, drought, high temperatures, and soil brininess.
Importance of seed varieties
Seed variety is becoming an endangered living organism through GMOS, but giving small-scale farmers enough resources to produce crops and manage them more sustainably, benefits the environment.
Food security is dependent on the variety and availability of seeds. The hybrid seed industry has destroyed natural seed banks kept by farmers.
This reduces farmers’ ability to cultivate early and late-maturing varieties of the same crops to increase food availability and security.
As a result, farmers cannot benefit from more productive but less hardy varieties whereas evading risks with varieties that are less productive but more tolerant to droughts.
Social and economic factors can also play a big role in seed diversity and security.
Small and medium-sized farmers’ seed security often relies on self-production, but due to climate change farmers experience food shortages from bad weather and pest outbreaks.
Growing a varied number of crops gives farmers the chance to harvest at different times during the year, offering more security and steady groups of produce available to them.
Seed variety can have a lot of health benefits, particularly in developing countries, where many people suffer from malnutrition due to a poor diet. Hence, managing seed diversity is important for maintaining good health and cultural diversity.
Natural and organic farming has often been labelled as backward by agricultural corporations, which try to maintain the notion that GMOs and hybrid seeds are the future of farming.
However, the fertilizers and pesticides used in farming GMO crops can destroy the biodiversity of the crops that farmers have access to. This threatens their ability to breed crops according to their changing circumstances and the environment due to climate change.
Through traditional seed breeding, farmers have developed thousands of different varieties of food crops across the world.
By protecting seed diversity, it will allow farmers to control their food system, protect biodiversity, and build resilience against climate change.
PHOTO CAPTION: Farmers do not know how to keep or select seeds. Photo by Victoria Nampala Bugembe