A visit to Tharaka Nithi County in central Kenya to document the work, highlights by Venter Mwongera, ABN’s Advocacy and Communications Officer, just how important local seed systems are to a community’s food security.
It is midday in Tharaka Nithi County. The multi-layered tree canopies are not only pleasing to the eye but also indicate a healthy ecosystem. The hissing of the insect, birdsong, buzzing of bees, gibbering of monkeys, as they jump from tree to tree, all add a deep richness to this beautiful environment.
Although the vegetation has grown immensely due to the recent rains, the midday heat creates a mirage on the horizon as we catch our breath in the cool shade of the gigantic oak trees. Umbrella shaped acacias are among the tree species found in Tharaka Nithi County. Although their long thorns send a cold shiver through one’s spine, their presence in the region offers a home to thousands of birds and to bees, which give Tharaka Nithi its name – the land of bees.
Tharaka, like many other African communities, enjoys and highly regards their rich diversity of indigenous seeds for food production and are deeply rooted in their originality as a people. The 2019 Census put Tharaka Nithi County’s population at 393,200 people, who mostly depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. To meet their food and nutritional needs, farmers select seeds that are both resilient and high yielding. The community’s cycle of seed involves first the identification and selection of its local seed, then growing, harvesting, drying, preservation and finally storage for use in subsequent seasons. “Through the salvaging of indigenous knowledge systems in farming, Tharaka community uses ecological maps and calendars to harness their healthy relationships with nature,” explains Simon Mitambo, ABN’s Regional Programme Coordinator.
Traditional seed knowledge, for example, seed management, continues to build resilient communities and could contribute to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG) of Zero Hunger. “Tharaka Nithi County’s economy is dependent on agriculture,” says Mitambo. “The majority of the smallholder farmers in the arid and semi-arid areas face many challenges such as unsuitable seeds for planting, a drought that occasionally results in crop failure and subsequent food shortage. If more support is given to the farmers to continue saving more traditional seeds in the community seed bank, the challenge could slowly fade away.”
Synergies for resilient African communities
In Kenya, the challenge of food security has been a chronic problem that successive government administrations have struggled to address since independence. Only 10.2% of arable land is available to feed a population of 48 million. Combined efforts with like-minded organizations and government agencies would work towards sustainably feeding the current and future generations without depleting natural resources.
The ABN, being a regional network of individuals and partner organizations like the Rural Initiative for Development (RIDEP), works to develop and enable resilient local communities to govern their lives, environment, livelihoods, and embrace social, cultural, and ecological diversity.
Farmers in Ngondi village in Tharaka Nithi County believe that indigenous knowledge of preserving the seeds for continuity is a better sustainable strategy for food security. “Selection of best indigenous seeds, storing them in a community seed bank to issue to farmers’ groups during the planting season has helped our group to continue enjoying better yields each season,” said Mrs. Kariungi Ngoci, Chairlady, Ngondi Farmers’ Association in Tharaka Nithi County.
According to Ngoci, the farmers’ group, which was formed more than ten years ago, has continually enjoyed good crop production. “This farmers’ group, comprised of more than 25 members, only use the seeds selected from their farms and preserved in the community’s seed bank. These seeds are resistant to diseases. They yield at least five sacks per acre after planting 6 kilograms of seeds, even when the rains are scanty,” she revealed.
Members of the group agree with their chairperson. “Black beans, green grams, sorghum, millet, finger millet, and barleys yield well in this region. These seeds we harvest and put them in the community seeds bank where a member who lacks seeds could collect from the seed bank to plant and return after a harvest,” said Mrs. Jerica Kamonte, Treasurer of the Association.
Mr. Hussein Idhoro, Tharaka Nithi County’s Drought Coordinator emphasised the importance of a multi-stakeholder operation among the government, guardians of the local knowledge, science, non-governmental organizations, and the friends of the community, as the best model to win against hunger in the communities. “The collaborations among the communities, research institutions, relevant government agencies, non-governmental organizations are an important partnership in agriculture to reduce hunger and malnutrition in Africa,” he observed, adding, “Sound policy frameworks that recognize peoples’ rights and the importance of biodiversity are equally important.”
The ABN and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) have collaborated to produce a documentary featuring the communities in Tharaka Nithi County in Kenya. The Seeds of Continuity documentary tells a story of the sovereignty of seeds among the Tharaka community and the work of ABN in building resilient communities through partnerships with the local implementing partners such as RIDEP. Watch the documentary here.