Seed remains the most vital input in food production and consequently, access to seeds is crucial in ensuring farmers’ food security and livelihoods. Farmers in Africa have engaged in seed saving practices for millennia through seed selection, storage, conservation and identification of useful traits, generating knowledge that has passed down through many generations.
There are many challenges facing agriculture globally, and especially on the African continent; climate change, pests and diseases are drastically affecting crop production and leading to loss of precious genetic diversity. In addition, lack of capacity in management and conservation of local genetic resources poses a major challenge. In this context, a promising practice that can facilitate the conservation of agro-biodiversity at the community level is the establishment of seed banks. In recent years this practice has grown in momentum; such as when groups of farmers came together to set up the Kiziba community seed bank in Uganda.
To ensure that farmers have sufficient planting material, the Kiziba seed bank distributes over four tonnes of seed per season. However, community seed banks are not just a useful tool to store seed for the next planting season. They are also vital in the conservation of agro-biodiversity in-situ, which ensures continuous adaptation of genetic resources to the ever-changing environment.
Seed banks’ diverse varieties have differing traits and characteristics that help with the management of pests and diseases. Likewise, varieties mature at different times, offering a more prolonged period of household food security and improved nutrition. Thus, seed banks can improve resilience whilst boosting food production and nutrition. Additionally, they act as information centres by providing farmers with a platform for sharing seeds and related indigenous knowledge for their use, management and conservation.
Through community seed banks, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, National Agricultural Research organisations and national gene banks have worked together to re-introduce lost diversity, introduce new diversity, and test and disseminate newly developed varieties through participatory varietal testing and selection methodologies.