Diverse, farmer-led seed systems

Small-scale farmers in southern Africa have been selecting, saving and exchanging seed for generations. As active plant breeders, they have been developing and conserving local varieties, continuously selecting seed with a wide range of characteristics and using seed preservation and storage techniques which have been passed on for generations. Besides knowledge related to seed and crop diversity, African farmers also have insight into a suite of ecologically sound farming practices such as natural pest and disease control, soil preparation and water management. Combined, these knowledge sets help small-scale farmers to deliver food security to their families and wider communities as they still provide most of the food in Africa. In addition, such systems, where communities have control over a diversity of their own seed varieties and types, satisfy all the dimensions of seed security, including availability, access, utilisation and resilience.

These farming systems, and the genetic diversity and farmers’ varieties they nurture, are under increasing threat - most urgently by the accelerated drive for a Green Revolution for Africa. Loss of crop diversity reduces nutrition and not only undermines the ability of households to cope with external shocks, but also diminishes social cohesion, knowledge, leads to increased reliance on the cash economy and reduces the ecological resilience of farming systems.

This industrial model of agriculture, driven by the interests of multinational seed companies, is premised on the privatisation of seed, limiting farmers’ rights to save and share seed. We therefore support seed systems that are farmer-led, defending the rights of farmers to have control over their own seed.

We believe seed sovereignty is the basis of food sovereignty. Seed sovereignty stands as a symbol for farmers’ (and especially women’s) autonomy, access and control over locally produced, culturally appropriate, increasingly diverse, seed and food, and for the health of the ecosystem, on which it all depends.