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Recognise smallholder farmer to address food security, state urged

A local NGO has urged the Government to recognize the key contribution of small-scale farmers in addressing food security in the country through enacting mechanisms that safeguard their rights to home-grown seed varieties.

Speaking ahead of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP 15 meet taking place in Nairobi, Greenpeace Africa is also calling on the government to amend laws that seek to prohibit farmers from sharing and selling seeds that are not certified or registered.

“Local farming communities are the custodians of indigenous seeds which are critical in the conservation of agrobiodiversity. The CBD COP15 needs to amplify local voices and the rights of these communities and safeguard them from exploitation, dispossession of biological resources,” says Greenpeace Africa’s Campaigner Claire Nasike in a press statement.

“By ratifying the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1994, Kenya agreed to the conservation of its biodiversity. Kenya’s government has however failed to conserve and protect indigenous seeds as part of its biological resources and instead passed draconian laws that allow multinationals to profit from the sale of certified and improved seed varieties and oppress the local smallholder farmers that feed Kenya’s population,” she adds.

Signed by 150 government leaders during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in Brazil, the body’s main drive is promoting sustainable development through conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of biological resources and equitable benefit sharing from the use of genetic resources among Member States.

It furthers recognizes that biological diversity is declining, putting traditional dependence of many indigenous and local communities on biological resources at risk. Kenya signed the Convention in 1994.

Nasike is now calling for the government to shift power from exploitative multinationals to indigenous peoples and local communities that are essential in the conservation of biodiversity. She also wants the outcome of the convention to be one that calls upon Member States to curb any future loss of biodiversity.

“The outcomes of the CBD should be geared towards strategies that encourage member countries to halt any further loss of biodiversity,” she points out.

Early this month Greenpeace and Seed Savers Network called for a review of the existing seed law which they claimed favoured large corporations at the expense of small-scale farmers.

According to the two organizations, the Seed and Plant Varieties Act 326 of 2012 should be amended to recognize and allow the sale, exchange and sharing of indigenous seeds in Kenya and an integration of the farmer seed management system into the law.

They averred that smallholder farmers across the country had been shocked to learn that the ban prohibits farmers from sharing, exchanging or selling uncertified and unregistered seeds.

In addition, they said, the legislation punishes offenders with a prison sentence of up to a maximum of two years or a fine of up to Sh1 million or both.

“The government has failed in its obligation of enacting laws to protect the ownership of indigenous seeds and intellectual property rights in indigenous knowledge on seeds in Kenya. The current seed laws reinforce neo-colonialism and potentially give big multinationals, big business and profit-driven entities a free leeway to pirate local resources,” claimed Nasike.

The findings were collected during a week-long joint Greenpeace Africa and Seed Savers Network field trip in the counties of Machakos, Kitui, Makueni, Nakuru and Kakamega.

Studies have shown that 90 per cent of the seeds planted in Kenya are from informal seed systems and that 80 per cent of smallholder farmers in Kenya depend on informal seed systems which include sharing seeds with other farmers, selling and buying at the local markets.

The officials therefore say denying these farmers the right to use their indigenous seeds is a theft of the biological resources which will translate to low food production leading to food insecurity.

Dominic Kimani, an Advocacy Officer at Seed Savers Network publicly faulted the law terming it as a tactic to control Kenya’s food system denying local farmers their livelihoods. He called upon the government to ensure the rights of farmers are protected by the law.

“Seeds are part of our cultural heritage and are the most crucial input in farming. Small scale farmers have over the years improved various crops through selection, seed saving and sharing. Their role as seed custodians and breeders should be supported by the government by enacting laws that protect them,” said Kimani.

“Criminalizing seed exchange and sharing will deny farmers their livelihoods, encourage biopiracy and reduce plant genetic diversity which affect the resilience of our farming communities at a time when we are experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis. Limiting the rights of farmers to share, exchange and sell seeds in the informal seed sector will reduce diverse seed access thus further aggravating food and nutritional insecurity in the country,” he added.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there has been a rapid decline in the loss of biodiversity particularly the plant genetic diversity, negatively impacting the global food supply. It is estimated that since the 1900s, at least 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost.

By Samuel Maina

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