Manata Jeko and Nobleman Zvirevo of CTDO reflect on the multiple key roles of community seed banks for the Zimbabwean seed sector and beyond
Community seed banks (CSBs) have made an important contribution to the enhancement of famers’ seed systems in Zimbabwe; in particular, they have been instrumental as a climate change adaptation strategy. By and large, the community seed bank has become a bulwark in the fight against climate change impacts, which include erosion of agrobiodiversity, increased food insecurity, poor nutrition, low income, and lack of access to climate suitable seeds.
CSBs play a significant role in increasing seed diversity in farmers’ hands through various activities that take place at and around the community seed banks. These activities include seed and food fairs, Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) by Farmer Field Schools (FFS), germplasm collection, seed production, and marketing of climate smart crops, and use of appropriate mechanization.
Start of community seed banks in Zimbabwe
The 1991-1992 devastating drought, which was declared a national disaster in Zimbabwe, became a turning point in the establishment of community seed banks in the country. It was after this drought that Community Technology Development Organisation (CTDO), in collaboration with other stakeholders, decided to initiate a project that would help farmers to conserve plant genetic resources, prevent genetic erosion and act as bastion to deal with the impact of climate change. In 1998, CTDO established the first three community seed banks to conserve local crop varieties on-farm.
Increasing diversity in farmers’ hands and conserving climate resilient crops
The community seed bank in Zimbabwe specializes in the conservation of seeds of climate resilient crops. These crops and varieties, which are tolerant to biotic and abiotic stresses, are carefully selected and propagated by farmers and breeders through Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB). The initial step in the PPB process involves a comprehensive diagnostic exercise using a tool called the diversity wheel. This allows farmers to identify crops and crop varieties with the required traits that suit their preferences and local ecological conditions.
After the diagnostic exercise, farmers then choose either to do Participatory Variety Selection (PVS), Participatory Variety Enhancement (PVE) or Participatory Variety Development (PVD):
- PVS involves selection of suitable varieties by farmers from a basket of advanced breeding lines using their own set breeding objectives.
- PVE is concerned with either restoring traits of a preferred local variety that has deteriorated over time or adapting the local variety to the changing growing conditions.
- PVD involves farmers working with breeders to initiate crossings with the objective of creating wholly new varieties that suit farmers preferences.
Photo: Once a year, community seed bank members use the diversity wheel to assess the status of crop diversity in the community. Credit: Bioversity International/R. Vernooy
Germplasm collection and seed exchange
Germplasm collected in the 20 community seed banks initiated by farmers and CTDO amounts to approximately 5000 accessions. These were collected through seed and food fairs and from farmers’ fields in collaboration with the National Genebank. The accessions stored at the various community seed banks in Zimbabwe include varieties of different crops: Bambara nut, cowpea, groundnut, maize, pearl millet, sesame, sorghum, and various indigenous vegetables.
At the seed fairs, farmers are able to exchange and sell seed, and also exchange knowledge. Besides, the seed fair functions as a platform that avails opportunities for interaction with policy makers. Interaction with policy makers gives farmers an opportunity to advocate for policies that support farmer seed systems.
The germplasm collection is carried out in collaboration with the National Genebank and thePlant Quarantine Services. The role of the National Genebank in germplasm collection involves training farmers on collection and characterization of local varieties as well as proper record keeping. The Plant Quarantine Services works with community seed banks to address seed health issues by carrying out regular seed health tests on germplasm in the community seed banks.
The National Genebank has created linkages between the community seed banks in Zimbabwe andthe regional seed bank, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Plant Genetic Resource Centre (SPGRC). Some accessions from the community seed banks in Zimbabwe are already housed at the SPGRC as a back-up; and the SPGRC staff is occasionally involved in training farmers on germplasm collection and record keeping.
Promoting the conservation of Neglected and Underutilized Species
Community seed banks in Zimbabwe are also at the forefront of promoting the utilization of Neglected and Underutilized Species (NUS). Farmers have been collecting germplasm of indigenous vegetables, and fruits – both wild and domesticated. Some of the indigenous vegetables, such as cleome for example, are now being evaluated and multiplied by farmers in Farmer Field Schools that focus specifically on NUS. The main objective is to promote the utilization of NUS to reduce the period of food scarcity and enable households to access the micro-nutrients necessary for nutrition and health.
Community seed banks are a bulwark against climate change
Overall, it could be said that the community seed bank in Zimbabwe is a bulwark against the devastating effects of climate change. The community seed bank has enabled farmers to increase diversity from a baseline of three varieties per crop to eight over a period of about eight years. It has also become a hub of knowledge exchange where farmers, breeders, extensionists, development workers, traditional leaders and policy makers meet to discuss issues how farmer seeds systems can be strengthened considering climate change.
- Adokorach, J.; Vernooy, R.; Kakeeto, R. (2020) Scaling community seedbanks and farmer seed enterprises in East and Southern Africa: Workshop Highlights, 2-4 October 2019, Entebbe, Uganda. Rome (Italy): The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/107360
- Kimani, D.; Adokorach, J.; Munkombwe, G.; Mushita, M.; Otieno, G.; Recha, T.; Vernooy, R. (2021) Strengthening community seed banks in East and Southern Africa in times of Covid-19. Rome (Italy): Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. https://hdl.handle.net/10568/113388