Youth-led seed banks: Reviving seed sovereignty to combat effects of climate change
Collins Chirinda, communications officer at Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) in Zimbabwe, shares how farmers in Gutu district, Masvingo Province, South East of the country, are rising to the challenge of climate change.
Rural communities in Zimbabwe have been facing the hardest impact of climate change. Frequent droughts and floods have exacerbated poverty and increased vulnerability to food, nutrition and income insecurity.
Our story takes us to Gutu district in the southeastern part of Zimbabwe under Masvingo Province. Gutu is located in natural farming region 3 and 4, receiving medium to low rainfall.
Here, a group of 30 local youths and young women working with Zimbabwe Seed Sovereignty Programme (ZSSP) partner, Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF) are reviving and fighting for their rights to save, share, exchange, trade and grow farm saved seeds.
ZSSP is an initiative coordinated by PELUM Zimbabwe working with nine partners, of which ZIMSOFF is one, in five provinces aimed at increasing resilience and strengthening livelihoods of smallholder farmers through seed sovereignty. ZSSP aims to help alleviate hunger, strengthen resilience and nutrition by strengthening farmer managed seed systems. Through this programme, smallholder farmers are rediscovering the value of indigenous crops, agrobiodiversity and sustainable agricultural practices.
Purity Chenjerai, one of the young women smallholder farmers from Gutu, says climate change and the industrial agriculture model have severed indigenous communities from the food that has sustained them for generations.
“Historically, this area [Gutu] used to be home to vast fertile plains and we received good rains. Owing to climate change and monoculture, we use baskets for seed and grain storage to maintain their optimum temperature,” she said.
“Our work here is to create a seed bank where we store our indigenous seeds. We store the seeds under natural conditions. No chemicals are used in the processes in handling the seeds from the field until storage,” she added.
Olliat Mavuramba, the Cluster Coordinator for ZIMSOFF under the ZSSP in Masvingo province says that unlike the commercial seed sector, in farmer managed seed systems there is no competition, diversity is celebrated and encouraged, and knowledge is shared and exchanged eagerly for the common good.
“Each community has its own seed banks and methods of seed preservation. The central feature is that youth share knowledge and seed resources through seed study groups,” he said.
Olliat also says that through the ZSSP initiative, seed and food availability has improved in the province.
“Through exchange visits organized by ZIMSOFF and PELUM Zimbabwe, these youth have been able to get access to lost seed varieties. Farm saved seeds have improved biodiversity, food and seed varieties, thus improving people’s livelihoods,” he said.
Oliat also added that the initiative has grown and will extend to other districts in Masvingo where more communities are developing keen interest in reintroducing traditional seeds in their fields.
“ZSSP has grown over the years. Our main thrust is to reintroduce the methods that were used by our forefathers in seed and food production and spread them to other communities” he explains.
“Indigenous seed varieties have dwindled which has put limitations on farmers’ access to seed and this has contributed to household food insecurity. This is why we are working with women in communities to strengthen indigenous seed varieties through establishing community seed banks,” says Purity. Adding that after colonization of Zimbabwe, monoculture became more prominent, resulting in proliferation of low nutrition crop varieties and takeover of corporates in the seed sector. This resulted in a decrease in indigenous seed varieties and contributed to household food and nutrition insecurity.
“By practicing agroecology now, strengthening seed sovereignty and reintroducing traditional seed varieties such as finger millet and cow peas which are tolerant to drought, we will be able to improve farmers’ access to seed which has been commercialized by big seed companies,” said Purity.
She also added that more youth have become interested in agroecology and cultivation of indigenous seed varieties.
“More youth are taking up agroecology because of its benefits, more youth are now consuming and farming traditional foods through the knowledge we have exchanged through ZSSP,” she said.
Purity says it was through dialogue with elderly women that the young women got the knowledge to establish seed banks.
“We adopted simple storage methods that were used long ago after we had engaged other elderly women. We use clay pots, glass bottles and reed.”
PELUM Zimbabwe is a strategic partner of ABN, working with various communities to implement multiple resilience-building approaches for sustainable food production while also caring for healthy biodiversity. For more information about this initiative and the work of PELUM Zimbabwe contact the country coordinator on firstname.lastname@example.org.