Ensuring farmer’s access to open source seeds systems in Kenya

March 22, 2017

‘’Farmers, too, have a voice in food security.’’ This comment represents some of the conversations during an open source seeds forum in Nakuru County on 15 to 17 March 2017 convened by Hivos East Africa, Bioversity International, Genetic Resources Research Institute and Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management – Africa. The forum drew participation from civil society, government, private sector, farmers’ representatives and research institutions to discuss seed systems in Kenya and the role of open source seeds systems in food security.

Forum discussions revolved around the need to develop open source seed systems in order to improve access to seeds for resource-poor farmers. Participants also forged collaborations to better address issues that centre on increasing food diversity and tackling food and nutrition challenges.

In fact, the International Treaty on Plant and Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which Kenya is party to, provides for farmers’ rights to set up an open source seed system in the country. For Kenya, this right can be an important way of helping feed Kenya’s growing population in the face of a changing climate and decreasing crop diversity.

During the forum, the stakeholders went on “Seed Safaris”, or visits to communities involved in seed saving, such as Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) and a nearby seed company, where they explored both existing seed systems and the potential of open source seeds systems.

According to current statistics by the Kenyan Red Cross, about 2.7 million Kenyans are in dire need of food aid due to the current drought. Against this backdrop, it was clear to forum participants that collaborative outreach by both the formal and informal seed sectors could steer the development of crucial agricultural policies to mitigate extreme hunger in Kenya.  

Some of the key messages that emerged from the forum:

  • If we want to diversify our food, have more choice and a healthier diet, we need to ensure that farmers have access to diverse seeds and can grow a variety of crops.
  • Farmers’ rights have to be anchored in the food value chain.
  • Collaborative efforts between the formal and informal seed sector will go a long way in addressing food challenges.
  • Farmers’ indigenous seed varieties need to be documented, especially in the era of climate change.
  • Farmers need to be involved in decision-making, including participatory plant breeding and variety selection.

The Open Source Seeds System is a change movement that advocates for plant varieties and genes to remain free from intellectual property rights and available for plant breeders in perpetuity.

The Hivos Open Source Seeds Programme

Increasingly, Hivos together with breeders, farmers, and others concerned with seed systems, has felt the need to develop an alternative system, based not on exclusive intellectual property rights claims, but on protected commons that subvert the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) system. Inspired by the open source software movement, several initiatives around the world have established variations of open source seed systems. Breeders declare their seeds open source, and farmers and consumers support the search for well-adapted varieties and tasty crops suitable for current cultivation technologies.