Partner profile: TABIO’s farmer training on seed
ABN’s strategic partner, Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity (TABIO) is an alliance of civil society and private sector organisations concerned with biodiversity, with an emphasis on agricultural biodiversity for livelihood security and food sovereignty. TABIO’s Abdalla Mkindi shares their work on seed systems and then explains how to select & save seed seeds for improved productivity.
Members of TABIO share the aims of conserving biodiversity and supporting sustainable development, promoting farmers’ self-determination and food sovereignty. The Alliance facilitates farmer exchange of information, experiences concerning sustainable practices relevant to biodiversity conservation and health policies to ensure public awareness of concern to the environment, agriculture, biodiversity and promoting citizen involvement in the decision-making processes.
Advocacy on seed
TABIO works at national and grassroots levels to advocate for recognition and support of farmer-managed seed systems. At the national level, TABIO advocates for the regulatory framework on seed to recognize and support farmer-managed seed systems, which contributes over 80% of seeds required by most smallholder farmers who also make over 80% of the total population engaged in agriculture in Tanzania. TABIO believes that the recognition and support of farmer managed seed systems are paramount in increasing the diversity of seeds available and affordable to farmers. Promoting seed diversity means putting seeds in the hands of the farmers, ensuring seed freedom. This is unlike the current seed system, where production of seeds is in the hands of a few, thus leading to dependence. Also, recognition and support of the farmer-managed seed systems mean promoting seeds sovereignty which is about the right of peoples to define their seed systems, including the right of farmers to replant their seeds, breed, save and exchange them with others.
In 2019, TABIO provided inputs to the revision of the 2013 National Agriculture Policy. The current policy and laws do not adequately consider the role of farmer seed systems, especially in Tanzania. In many African countries, this is a common narrative where the majority of seeds for most crops are maintained and improved by farmers themselves, with little or no external support. Farmer managed seed systems can be sourced from a diverse germplasm, the reintroduction of displaced indigenous and other local crops and varieties, biodiversity conservation and maintenance, breeding, including variety selection and enhancement, seed production, storage and management, distribution, farmer organization, research, extension and knowledge sharing, public sector support, and others.
At the grassroots level, TABIO works with smallholder farmers to ensure that they select good quality seeds for enhancing productivity. One of the most important seeds that TABIO work with are the rice seeds from the smallholder farmers. Rice is one of the most important crops in the country, it is a major staple food crop for the majority of the population and thus is valuable commercially.
Selection of quality rice seed
TABIO works with farmers on quality seed selection because good seed results in healthier, more resilient and potentially higher-yielding seedlings. This leads to seedlings that recover quickly from transplanting shock and rapid root growth, enabling seedlings to draw nutrients from the soil easily. Selection of good seeds also results in uniform germination and growth of seedlings, making it easier for the farmer to time crop management practices, e.g., transplanting, irrigation, fertilization, weeding.
Selection in the field: After the training and with mentorship from TABIO, paddy producers select their seeds in three phases. In the first phase, the seed selection is done on the farm. Each farmer who intends to keep seeds for the next cropping season from their harvest identifies a plot from which the seeds will be harvested. In this section, over-grown crops are uprooted from the farm. The main reason for this is to ensure that the remaining paddy is uniform and of the same variety. This is done continuously until the paddy matures for harvest. If selection is not done at this stage, this leads to a mixture of varieties of seeds, a problem that cannot be solved after harvesting.
Selection at storage: Once sorting in the field is completed and the paddy is ready for harvest, the area selected for seeds is harvested first. After harvesting, threshing and winnowing are done. The seeds being saved for the next season are dried and preserved in labelled bags. Seed bags are kept in a safe place in the house and household members are informed not to use them. The rest of the harvest to be used for food or sold for income is stored separately.
Selection at sowing time: The selection of paddy seeds continues at sowing time. In this phase, farmers take a clean 20-litre bucket and slowly add up to 2-3kg of salt to 10 litres of water. The concentration of the solution is monitored and checked using a fresh chicken egg since farmers do not have a scale (hydrometer). The required solution should enable an egg to float half in water and half above the surface. As a result, the specific density of water changes from 1 to 1.14. It should be noted that in clean water, such an egg would sink to the bottom of the bucket.
When the optimum concentration is reached, farmers use the solution to sort paddy seeds and determine their quality. The solution is divided into two containers and the seeds saved for growing are mixed with the solution. The mixture is stirred for a few minutes. Good paddy seeds settle at the bottom of the bucket while seeds of poor-quality float on top. Floated seeds are mostly those seeds that are unmatured, damaged or pest-infested. These are removed from the bucket and more stirring is done until all unwanted seeds are removed from the bucket. The well-matured and healthy seeds at the bottom of the bucket are collected and washed 2-3 times with clean water and sown in the nursery or dried if the planting is not being done immediately. The alliance was formed in November 2011 out of a concern about the deterioration of agricultural biodiversity.