‘Free the seed’ is not just turning out to be a fancy tag line on paper. For Caroline Alango, it’s a lived reality for the change she desires to see in the seed sector.
As the founder of Dash Crop Limited, Caroline’s journey began in 2014 with a cassava seed. Her drive was only one, ‘’Farmers do not have access to diverse seeds. This bothered me for quite a while,’’ she said.
Hivos East Africa’s Sally Akinyi, sat down with her to get a glimpse of the change she is making in the seed sector as an entrepreneur.
SA: What’s your story?
CA: I am a seed entrepreneur passionate about empowering farmers to realize their role as custodians of the food production value chain. At Dash Crop Limited we work with smallholder farmers in Homabay County and train them to reproduce climate resilient crops such as: sorghum, amaranth and finger millet.
SA: What’s the one thing that disturbs you about the current seed sector in Kenya?
CA: Intermediaries such as middle men are stifling free distribution of seeds, particularly seeds that are produced by farmers. Seed monopolies are now dictating what’s on your plate but even worse is the fact that there’s no longer any democracy in seed systems from conservation, improving and generating the production of diverse seeds. The monopolies are now determining seed pricing using such an intensive commercialised approach where the majority of seed enterprises are focused on making quick profits at the expense of the producers of food (farmers in this case).
SA: What are you doing to disrupt this ecosystem?
CA: I believe farmers have the capacity to play a pertinent role in the current climate change crisis, more so in the production of climate resilient crops and disrupting the set norms in the seed systems by demanding for more control. As Dash Crops Limited this has been our main focus; we not only trade farmers’ seeds but equip them with necessary skills such as good agricultural practices including post-harvest handling and agri-business to enable them gain from their tool of trade.
SA: Tell us more about a farmer you have mentored
CA: I have been mentoring Mama Jane who now works at Dash Crops Limited but equally runs her own seed enterprise in Homabay Town. From the trainings she received from my company she now leads a community group comprising of farmers using a simple approach: ‘Let’s go natural and do it naturally,’’ which means that they advocate for organic farming through the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides. I also realised farmers have rich knowledge on cultural methods of preserving seeds and this is information that has been passed down from generation to generation; we just need to get back to our roots and that is precisely the epitome of my company’s principles.
SA: You were the winner in last year’s Disrupt ideathon. How are you using the knowledge from the event?
CA: I would like to thank Hivos East Africa for giving me such an immense opportunity to not only position my business but also elevate my voice in the seed ecosystem. It’s been a one year journey of being mentored in the accelerator program that was being run by the Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC). From this I have been able to gain confidence that I do not need huge seed multinationals to market my seeds but well able to do it myself.
History made as premier seed bank is launched in Western Kenya
While Caroline is a representation of the vast voices in the seed sector trying to disrupt the ecosystem and ensure seeds are in the hands of many; farmers from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya echoed her exact sentiments during the launch of the first seed bank in Nyando, Kisumu County.
From a one week training of how to establish and sustain viable seed enterprises that culminated in a local community seed bank launch, farmers were further equipped with knowledge on positioning indigenous seed varieties in the face of climate change.
During the launch, farmers with the most diverse seeds and innovative methods of marketing their seeds were given awards including farm inputs such as: wheel barrows, hoes and gumboots.
The local seed bank which is run by the Friends of Katuku Odeyo Farmers Group, is expected to conserve traditional varieties of seeds through ‘loaning’ them to farmers at a minimal cost where half a kilo of seeds will cost KES 500 (equivalent to USD 5).
Speaking during the launch, Hivos East Africa’s Director, Mendi Njonjo applauded the establishment of the seed bank as a game changer that will go a long way in ensuring the sovereignty of seeds is protected in the country. ‘’Indigenous seeds are the solution we need to enabling food security and farmers have this knowledge with them,’’ she said.
Eddy Ouko, the chairman of the seed bank equally noted in his remarks that farmers need to protect their rights in the seed sector as the future of food security lies heavily on their cultural practices. ‘’Farmers have to protect indigenous seeds that are disappearing to preserve traditional, healthy and nutritious foods,’’ he said.
Supported by Hivos East Africa, Bioversity International, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organisation (KALRO), the research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (SANREM), the premier seed bank will preserve climate resilient seed traditional varieties such as sorghum, finger millet and beans from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania for re-production.