‘Free the seed’

August 10, 2018

Fewer choices, shrinking diversity and rising food giants

They say seeds are the soul of agriculture, a statement that fights to justify some truth but all indications of reality show an uncertain future of seeds.

Currently, it is estimated that the world has lost 75 per cent of its crop diversity. A stark reality that is marred with fewer food options, choices and shrinking diversity on the plate. The ripple effect of this has been witnessed through rising malnutrition among citizens a great inhibition towards achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2) on  ending all hunger and all its forms by 2030.

At the depth of this crisis is a sector that continues to be monopolised by global food giants leaving farmers- the ultimate producers of food- fighting for dignity and the right to access seed in a fair and just way. Sadly, farmers have been left at the margins of competing with businesses for knowledge, innovation and some bit of truth when it comes to access to diverse seed in the face of climate change.

In East Africa, Hivos is among the front-runners leading a change movement in advocating for free access to seed that is fair, nutritious and resilient to climate change. Through the Open Source Seeds Systems Program, Hivos together with partners are calling for a level playing field for seeds actors in the sector. This ultimately translates to farmers having the freedom to use and reproduce quality seed for food production.

Hivos in partnership with the Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC) and Bioversity International are spearheading use of disruptive innovation to challenge the current model of thinking when it comes to free and fair seed. This model of thinking is supporting, incubating and linking seed companies and entrepreneurs with potential impact investors to accelerate farmers’ access to diverse seeds.

In July 4-6 2018, Hivos and KCIC hosted a Disrupt Ideation in Nairobi, Kenya, bringing together ethical seed companies, organisations and technology (IT) based enterprises; with a revenue model for goods and service provision.

The main aim of the event was to get more social entrepreneurs involved and interested in delivering products and services of quality to small holder farmers.  With diverse challenges in relation to access of diverse seeds, social entrepreneurs are expected to win back the trust of farmers in a resolve to enhance food security.

Speaking during the event, Mendi Njonjo, Hivos East Africa’s Regional Director, noted of the need to support seeds entrepreneurs as an avenue towards enabling farmers’ access to seeds. ‘’We define these visionaries (seeds entrepreneurs) as important drivers of enabling positive impact and social justice in our food systems,’’ she said.

During the event, the social entrepreneurs developed next steps in their businesses and pitched their propositions to a jury and audience at the Strathmore Business School in Nairobi. Nine social entrepreneurs from Kenya received awards for different categories with an overall winner who is expected to receive mentorship support from KCIC.

Overall categories of winners

Dash Crop Limited

Dash Crop Limited received an award for being the most socially innovative and was crowned as the overall winner. The company works with farmers fromMigori, Kisumu, Homabay, Siaya and Busia Counties in horticulture, poultry, cassava, pulses and sorghum.

Community Research in Environment and Development Initiatives (CREADIS)

Creadis bagged an award for being most socially impactful. The company works with small holder farmers in to integrate good climate practices in the face of climate change such as better land preparation, soil rehabilitation and conservation measures that maximize production.

Agrifor Limited

Agrifor received an award for being most environmentally impactful. The company uses an integrated approach in provision of consultancy/contract farm services and marketing of high quality germplasm (seed and seedlings) distribution, small pack inputs supply and crop establishment.

About Open Source Seeds Systems

Through this program, Hivos works with social seed entrepreneurs to guarantee farmers access to affordable and climate-resilient seeds. OSSS advocates for seeds that are free from patent restrictions that limits farmers on how they can be used. This is all made possible by support from Open Society Foundation and the UN FAO Benefit Sharing Fund.