Open source seeds’ first ideathon in Nairobi

March 9, 2017

Drought and the climate changing patterns cannot be separated from food security. These are some of the factors that have given rise to the open source seeds initiative globally. With the changing rainfall partners, farmers will need access to a wide variety of climate-resilient seeds which many times are not always ‘free’.

The Open Source Seeds Initiative works with smallholder farmers to ensure that plant varieties and genes remain free from intellectual property restrictions and can be reproduced and exchanged.

Hivos East Africa has joined this global movement through the Hivos Open Source Seeds programme being implemented in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The programme seeks to create a mechanism that increases farmers’ access to seeds and thus increases food diversity through building a platform for exchange, advocacy and prototyping.

To upscale efforts in knowledge sharing, Hivos East Africa and the Kenya Climate Innovation Center convened the –first of its kind- open source seeds “ideathon” in Nairobi. The ‘Disrupt!’ Event, held from 15 to 17  February 2017, brought together technology (IT) based enterprises; ethical seed companies; private breeders; community seed banks; producer groups; farmer-breeders and (open source) seed networks with a revenue model for service provision and impact investors.

During the event, the social entrepreneurs drawn from Kenya, Tanzania and the Netherlands pitched their proposals to impact investors, who in turn gave formidable feedback to strengthen the entrepreneurs’ value propositions.

The winner, SheFarms, was selected based on their pitch focusing on farming systems that respect biodiversity and integrate innovation and social impact.

Hivos East Africa’s Sally Akinyi sat down with SheFarms’ Founder and CEO, Tiambi Rebecca Simms, and Co-Founder, Margot Barreveld, to understand how SheFarms has dominated the agribusiness sector in Africa as a start-up.

SA: Who is SheFarms and what do you do?

TS: SheFarms is an agro-business start-up that works with female farmers in developing countries. We provide them with a platform that includes information on increasing farming capabilities, improving access to seeds and where they can market their products.

SA: What inspired you to take part in the Open Source Seeds Ideathon?

TS: Our work is closely linked with what Open Source Seeds seeks to do – provide farmers with wide access to seed varieties to boost biodiversity and food security. We are inspired by change movements such as this (open source seeds) that protect the diversity of foods and integrate the role of women in the food value chain to improve production and consumption.

SA: Any proven interventions that you would want to upscale in Open Source Seeds?

TS: In the different countries where we work, we see ourselves as an integral part of the global change movement that wants to see a fairer supply chain, one that respects both consumers and producers. We realise that women’s contributions to agriculture can no longer be ignored, and that’s why we seek to promote gender equality and prevent food deficit. Through our gender interventions in countries like Ghana, we are continuously working to empower women to be in charge of their own agricultural systems. We feel this is closely intertwined with improving the quality of production and preserving food diversity. We build the capacity of our ‘SheFarmers’ to incorporate sustainable farming techniques that are environmentally friendly.

SA: Going forward, how do you see your relationship evolving with Hivos East Africa when it comes to building a sustainable future for food security?

TS: We have the same dream: healthy foods for all that are produced fairly. SheFarms is an enabler of food security and equality. By using technology to provide free information, and by educating and investing in women, we are combatting climate change in a different way – through knowledge sharing. Open Source Seeds is a crucial new movement to create more diversity in what farms produce by preserving and providing access to indigenous seeds. The new opportunity afforded by our relationship with Hivos East Africa will help us continue to upscale our proven efforts to enable farmers to adapt to climate change.