Embracing indigenous seeds for climate change adaptation in Uganda
Climate change severely threatens Uganda’s rain-fed agriculture, impacting smallholder farmers. Frequent dry spells, floods, high temperatures, pests, and diseases worsen vulnerability, especially among marginalized groups. Yet, indigenous seeds, adapted to local environments over generations, hold immense potential for climate resilience. SEATINI’s Programs and Communications Manager Herbert Kafeero share experiences on the experience of using indigenous seeds in climate adaptation in the country.
Uganda’s agriculture sector is highly vulnerable to climate change, with smallholder farmers facing significant challenges due to the changing climate. Such effects as dry spells, floods, high temperatures, and increased pests and diseases are causing reduced productivity, loss of crops and damages, and low sector performance. Particularly vulnerable are women, youth, refugees, and host communities that rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods. In the face of this harsh reality and uncertainty, the importance of indigenous seeds that have adapted to local environments cannot be overstated.
Indigenous farmers in Uganda have a long history of saving, managing, and propagating local seed varieties within their communities. This informal seed system, known as the Farmer Managed Seed System (FMSS), is built on the rich biodiversity of the landscape, and the traditional seed varieties have stood the test of time, being well-adapted to the local environment. However, climate change, mono-cropping, declining interest in agriculture, and the introduction of hybrid seed varieties have contributed to the gradual decline in traditional seed varieties.
Preserving biodiversity, promoting food sovereignty and climate resilience
Indigenous seed systems are facing threats from corporations gaining intellectual property rights over seeds, restricting the rights of smallholder farmers and Indigenous Peoples to save, use, exchange, and sell their seeds. Contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the patenting of genetic sequences have also undermined peasant seed systems. Agricultural modernization, privatization of natural resources, and the concentration of corporate power in the seed industry have contributed to the decline of collective local management of plant genetic resources, posing a threat to conservation and sustainable use.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has warned against the increased use of hybrid seeds, considering them a threat to indigenous varieties and local genetic heritage. “Protecting and promoting peasant and Indigenous Peoples’ seed systems is essential to safeguarding the fundamental right to food and nutrition, as well as preserving the communities’ rapidly decreasing biodiversity. Indigenous seeds, which have evolved over thousands of years to adapt to rises in temperature and drought, hold immense potential for climate change adaptation and food sovereignty in the country.” States Ms. Jane Nalunga, ED, SEATINI Uganda.
Indigenous seeds can be saved by smallholder farmers for the next planting, as they reliably produce true copies. Indigenous seeds also require less water compared to hybrid seeds and do not negatively impact soil health and the environment. “Reviving community seed banks can play a crucial role in facilitating the revival and distribution of traditional and stress-tolerant crops and varieties, ensuring their preservation and availability for future generations.” Ms. Nalunga, reiterates.
Moreover, indigenous seeds have the potential to serve as a vital resource for climate change adaptation in Uganda’s agriculture sector. The Government of Uganda and other African governments need to take action to protect and promote peasant and Indigenous Peoples’ seed systems through immediate enabling actions and planning for short, medium, and long-term responses. Investments in farmer-managed seed systems, an enabling policy environment, and political goodwill are crucial to enable communities to adapt to climate change. Ms Nalunga emphasizes while also calling on all players to take their position to save the indigenous seeds. By preserving and utilizing indigenous seeds, Uganda can safeguard its food security, protect biodiversity, and build resilience in the face of climate change.
SEATINI Uganda is a strategic partner of ABN, being one of the 21 partners collaborating in a project that focuses on conserving biocultural diversity by strengthening community resilience and ecosystem services, with financial support from SIDA.
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