HOME GARDEN TECHNOLOGY LEAFLET 17
Seed production is a process with many stages, including research, breeding, production, certification, post-harvest handling and, if done commercially, marketing. For most home garden managers, commercial seeds are out of reach, because of their cost or because of limited access. Seed multiplication and saving, therefore, is an important practice for many rural households.
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY-LEVEL SEED PRODUCTION AND THE CONSERVATION OF GENETIC RESOURCES
Genetic erosion is the loss of the genetic diversity of crops. The main cause of this, as reported by many countries worldwide, is the replacement of local varieties by "improved" exotic varieties and species. As more and more farmers introduce new commercial varieties, the number of varieties overall may be reduced.
The main cause of genetic erosion in Africa is the destruction of forests and bushland for large-scale commercial agriculture, to provide pastureland for livestock grazing and for the collection of fuelwood. In order to halt this process, many African countries have developed national plant genetic resources conservation programmes, many of which support on-farm conservation efforts. In Ethiopia, for example, farmers and plant breeders work together to restore plant varieties, such as those lost during the droughts of the 1980s.
For reasons relating to taste preference, cooking quality and storage characteristics, many rural African households and communities continue to cultivate and conserve local varieties as they have done for centuries. Seed production and selection by such households have contributed substantially to the maintenance of genetic diversity and have prevented the loss of some traditional crop varieties. Especially in risk-prone environments, farmers have overcome environmental constraints, such as diseases and harsh climates, by growing genetically diverse mixtures of crop varieties.
Home gardens in particular constitute a valuable part of the on-farm conservation of traditional varieties. Since women are often responsible for home gardens and the preparation of family meals, they play a large role in crop selection for the home garden. All home garden managers can play an even greater role in preserving the seeds of some of the uncultivated and semi-cultivated indigenous species, such as minor vegetables, fruits and other underused plant species that may not be part of national conservation and breeding programmes. It is also to their benefit when market outlets are available, because considerable income may be derived from the production and sale of seed from indigenous and exotic varieties of garden crops.
When producing seed, the home garden manager must consider the following.
HARVESTING AND PROCESSING SEED
Seeds are harvested and processed as follows:
Seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place, preferably in airtight containers (e.g. plastic bags or sealed clay pots). Generally, the moisture content of seeds should be kept low, especially if temperatures are high. Experts can provide advice to home garden managers on the viability of the different seed types.