By Juliet Kasirye
Uganda is losing its food diversity because of poor conservation of seeds, according to agriculture experts.
Research indicates that although there are 30,000 known foods in Uganda, consumption is now concentrated on just 30 foods, while the others are almost extinct.
“This has been a result of mainly poor seed management and conservation of these local foods,” said the Resilient Livelihoods manager at Oxfam Uganda, Charles Opiyo.
The experts attribute the presence of poor-quality seeds in the market to a lack of awareness of what the National food policy requires the actors to do.
“We realized that very few seed companies are legally registered. Currently, I think they are 35 registered companies, yet the seed demand is overwhelming the supply that these seed companies do,” disclosed Opiyo.
Since some seed companies deal in limited diversity, Opiyo said, because of the high demand, some other seed companies take advantage and provide poor quality seeds.
Opiyo further added, “The cost of seed is forcing some farmers to run and buy grains in the market. Some people buy grains and call them seed, and the entire public knows that seeds that we have are of poor quality.”
Since more than 80% of people are involved in agriculture, Opiyo said, Seed is the beginning of people’s livelihoods and employment.
Opiyo called upon everyone to look at seed as a gift that we can use to alleviate poverty, reduce inequalities, and promote the country’s development. Noting that, if we have quality seeds, then productivity will be enhanced.
With the availability of quality seeds, Opiyo said, “Uganda will be food secure, have Nutrition security, income and also self-sufficiency in terms of provision of all the things people need as human beings.”
He made the remarks during the farmer-managed seed systems caravan 2023 press conference organized by Oxfam Uganda, ESAFF Uganda, and other partners at Participatory Ecological Land Use Management, (PELUM)Uganda in Ntinda on Monday.
The farmer-managed seed systems caravan and policy discourse will commence from September 25 to 29 among the farmer field schools in the districts of Nebbi, Adjumani, Apac, Omoro, and Soroti.
The caravan will facilitate cross-learning, experimental sharing, showcasing, and dialogue on the best practices to strengthen farmer-managed seed systems for improved household nutrition, food security, and income.
To improve the quality of seeds obtained in the markets, Opiyo said, that through this Sowing Diversity equals Harvesting security programme, they are strengthening the farmer’s capacity to develop high-quality seeds through participatory variety selection, where farmers decide which variety to grow after obtaining a range of materials from the breeding institutions.
The five-year programme has promoted exchanges and learning that have contributed to seasonal seed fares within communities of Nebbi, Soroti Omoro. Besides that, the programme has reached over 3604 households and also benefited over 50,000 smaller holder farmers in terms of farmer field school activities and information sharing.
The Country Director of PELUM Uganda, Josephine Akia Luyimbazi said, the programme is intended to address the issue of seed security by providing Quality planting materials to the farmers.
Conservation of genetic seeds
Besides conserving seeds, Plant Genetic Resources Centre in Entebbe, Eva Zzake, said they further study these seeds as they don’t want to conserve something that will not be valuable to the farmers.
In collaboration with the different research institutes, Zzake noted: “We study the diversity to know the traits that are resident such that we give back to people what they need. For instance, farmers that would want to get early maturing varieties, disease resistant would be able to know the type of seed that we can give back to the farmer to use.”
Speaking on behalf of farmers, Grace Asio, a farmer from Soroti decried the challenge of poor-quality seed in the market.
“Having access to quality seed and availability of market for our produce are some of the biggest challenges affecting farmers. Due to different weather partners, some farmers end up planting seeds that are not weather resistant in their districts,” explained Asio.
However, through capacity building, Asio said, farmers have been able to improve to improve their production. For instance, after the training, in Soroti, farmers choose to plant groundnuts because they are drought-resistant and pests.
PHOTO CAPTION: Josephine Akia Luyimbazi (left), PELUM Uganda country Coordinator, Charles Opiyo (centre), Oxfam Resilient Livelihoods manager and Eva Zzake (right) from Plant Genetic Resources Centre in Entebbe during a press conference about farmer managed seed systems caravan at PELUM Uganda in Ntinda. Photo by Juliet Kasirye