Using the NUS Networks to preserve and share indigenous seeds
In the current global food systems, giant corporations have gained control of the seed market and seeds are now commercialised most of the time. These are now a global commodity in the service of industrial farming and hugecorporations, with short shrift given to locals to the specific methods, ecosystems, and needs of small-scale family farms. In other words, seed is about control as it has been labelled that we need cooperate seed to feed the world as these are more efficient, high yielding and predictable. Despite all that, it is important to ask these questions, why are farmers still preserving indigenous seed if it is backward? why are they planting them? what do they benefit from these crops?
Farmer-managed seed systems are the principal source of seeds of food crops in Africa, yet national and regional seed policies undermine them. Small-scale farmers in Uganda have always saved, stored and acquired indigenous seed with less input as these are resilient for most of the impacts of climate change yet are nutritious and available throughout the year.
One of the unique approaches being used by small-scale farmers to preserve and share these seeds is the Neglected and Under-utilised Species (NUS) Networks. In 2020, ESAFF Uganda established the NUS Networks in Apac district that comprise of both Women NUS networks and the Youth NUS Networks. Through the NUS networks, small-scale farmers are able to maintain their cultural heritage and traditional knowledge of local food plants in their communities. In Uganda, women are the known guardians of seed yet their contribution in the food systems is not recognised. The NUS Networks are seed exchange forums that enable small-scale farmers conserve indigenous seed within their communities through seed sharing events like seed and food fairs, cookery demonstration among others.
Uganda has such a tremendous rich diversity of food crops and other plants courtesy of the local farming communities collecting, conserving, developing and exchanging these seeds. The NUS Network has strengthened seed activism in Uganda through empowering small-scale farmers especially women and youths to appreciate and embrace indigenous seed. In order keep indigenous seed in the communities, small-scale farmers exchange seeds or sell them amongst themselves at a fair price compared to what is on the market. Since the setup of the first NUS Network back in 2020, ESAFF Uganda has up-scaled them to different districts of Amuria and Adjumani and have registered over 600 small-scale farmers.
Small-scale farmers are also use Community Seed Banks (CSB) to conserve their seeds and members are allowed to borrow seed that is returned at the end of the season. This is done to ensure that there is a constant supply of indigenous seed in the community. The NUS Network has further enabled small-scale farmers to share their knowledge about the different NUS and their usage in improving nutrition in their communities.
In order to fight against malnutrition, hunger and poverty, small-scale farmers under their NUS Networks have set up kitchen gardens while others have set up commercial fields of local food plants. This enables them to have enough food throughout the year as well as income for personal development despite their current limited access to agricultural resources. Moving forward, there is need to further strengthen small-scale farmers’ capacity to tap into their local potential in addressing some of the community problems like hunger, poverty and malnutrition hence improving livelihoods.