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International Treaty’s Benefit-sharing Fund Supports Biodiversity in Farmers’ Fields in Uganda

21/03/2019

Community Seed Bank Serves 1000s of Smallholder Farmers

5 – 6 March 2019, Hoima, Uganda – In the seven months since the Hoima Community Seed Bank was established, it has become a repository of local and regional food crop diversity for thousands of Ugandan farmers who come here to access the seeds of over 50 food plant varieties adapted to prevailing local climatic and environmental conditions.

This community seed bank was set up in August 2018 in Hoima, a remote area in Uganda that is particularly vulnerable to climate change, as part of a multi-country project funded by the Benefit-sharing Fund (BSF) of the International Treaty of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The seed bank in Hoima is one of four community seed banks (CSBs) established under the BSF project “Open Source Seed Systems from Beans, Sorghum, finger millet and forage legumes for climate change adaptation in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania” [1] that runs from December 2015 to December 2019. The project is largely supported by funds from the European Union and other donors.

The Hoima CSB currently serves over 2000 Ugandan smallholder farmers, 50% of whom are women, and is registered as a community-based organization within Hoima district.

“In keeping with a ‘banking’ model, registered members of the Hoima Community Seed Bank (CSB) can get the seeds they need for planting crops in their fields as long as they ‘repay’ it with ‘interest’ in the form of more seeds,” explained Kent Nnadozie, Secretary of the FAO’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture from Rome. “For instance, if a farmer borrows 1kg of seeds, he/she will return 2kg of harvested seeds back to the CSB, thus both accessing and sharing what is available through the Seed Bank with the rest of the community in a mutually reinforcing cycle of self-sustenance.”

“The Hoima seed bank is a participatory, inclusive and empowering instrument for local farmers to exercise their rights and join forces in the conservation of their agrobiodiversity for current and future needs,” said Rodica Leahu, International Treaty Secretariat officer during a recent visit to Uganda.

Farmers registered as members of the seed bank can borrow seed on the understanding that they must eventually bring back more seed than they borrow, so that the seed bank continues to grow and the entire community can benefit. Currently, there are 1000 farmers from eight villages who are registered members of the Hoima CSB, which currently contains seeds for the following food crops:

  • 28 bean varieties (six of which are local and the rest are from the three national genebanks);
  • 23 millet varieties (two of them are local and the rest are from genebanks in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania);
  • two varieties of cow pea;
  • one  variety of pigeon pea;
  • one variety of sesame; and
  • three varieties of local vegetable.

The Hoima CSB, like the other CSBs set up under this BSF project, is run by community members who receive special training on the management of small and medium enterprises and on the documentation of traditional knowledge. The project provides local farmers training in managing plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and actively involves them in developing new varieties and other relevant technologies for climate change adaptation and strengthening food security. Farmers are also involved in on-farm trials and farmer field schools, where they receive training in seed multiplication, participatory breeding, in licensing their seeds as farmers’ varieties, and in trading seeds under open source labels. The farmers also participate in Farmers’ Seed Fairs, which attract hundreds of farmers and provide an opportunity for them to showcase and share local seed varieties cultivated and saved as a result of the OSSS project. These Seed Fairs also provide an excellent opportunity for farmers from different parts of Uganda to exchange seeds and share experiences.

“The OSSS project is a good example of how the International Treaty’s Benefit-sharing Fund facilitates both access and benefit-sharing of the material available in the Multilateral System among smallholder farmers, promoting the conservation and management of local food crop varieties adapted to local climatic conditions, while also raising awareness about farmers’ rights,” said Secretary Nnadozie.

Bioversity International, the main partner and executing organization for the OSSS project, has made materials from the Multilateral System of the International Treaty available to farmers through national gene banks. So far, over 400 accessions of beans, finger millet and sorghum have been shared between the countries involved in this BSF project through Standard Material Transfer Agreements.

The OSSS project under which the Hoima CSB has been established is supported by funding from the European Union, in addition to others, including the Open Society Foundation and the CGIAR research program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

 

 



[1] This is one of 20 projects supported by the third cycle of the International Treaty’s Benefit-sharing Fund.

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