Kenya: NGOs Seek Review of Seed Laws Unfavorable to Small-Scale Farmers

Nyeri — Two non-governmental organizations are calling for a review of the existing seed law which they claimed favoured large corporations at the expense of small-scale farmers.

Greenpeace Africa and Seed Savers Network say the Seed and Plant Varieties Act 326 of 2012 should be amended in order to recognise and allow the sale, exchange and sharing of indigenous seeds in Kenya and an integration of the farmer seed management system into the law.

According to the two environmental lobby groups, smallholder farmers across the country have been shocked to learn that the ban prohibits farmers from sharing, exchanging or selling uncertified and unregistered seeds.

In addition, the legislation punishes offenders with a prison sentence of up to a maximum of two years or a fine of up to Sh1 million or both.

“The government has failed in its obligation of enacting laws to protect the ownership of indigenous seeds and intellectual property rights in indigenous knowledge on seeds in Kenya. The current seed laws reinforce neo-colonialism and potentially give big multinationals, big business and profit-driven entities a free leeway to pirate local resources,” claims Claire Nasike, Greenpeace Africa’s Campaigner through a press statement.

The findings were collected during a week-long joint Greenpeace Africa and Seed Savers Network field trip that was undertaken in the counties of Machakos, Kitui, Makueni, Nakuru and Kakamega.

Nasike claims the law has remained obscure with only very few Kenyans being aware of the full extent of its punitive nature.

She similarly said farming communities in these counties were astounded that no public participation was carried out prior to the passing of this law.

She emphasizes that the Constitution of Kenya 2010, which is the supreme law, has expressly recognised the existence and the need to preserve indigenous seeds commonly referred to as informal seeds by placing an obligation upon Parliament to pass legislation that would protect the ownership of such indigenous seeds.

“Such draconian seed laws have paved the way for a neo-colonial capitalistic culture of exploiting farmers to thrive – by encouraging corporate control on seeds and the food system in Kenya. These punitive laws will limit the farmers’ ability to grow their desired, nutrient dense, locally available crops leading to a loss in the food diversity from farm to plate,” she continued.

Studies have shown that 90 per cent of the seeds planted in Kenya are from informal seed systems and that 80 per cent of smallholder farmers in Kenya depended on informal seed systems which included sharing seeds with other farmers, selling and buying at the local markets.

The officials therefore say denying these farmers the right to use their indigenous seeds is a theft of the biological resources which would translate to low food production leading to food insecurity.

Dominic Kimani, who is an Advocacy Officer at Seed Savers Network publicly faulted the law terming it as a tactic to control Kenya’s food system and rid the local farmers of their livelihoods.

Kimani is now calling upon the government to ensure the rights of farmers are protected by there is no law taking advantage of local farming communities.

“Seeds are part of our cultural heritage and are the most crucial input in farming. Small scale farmers have over the years improved various crops through selection, seed saving and sharing. Their role as seed custodians and breeders should be supported by the government by enacting laws that protect them,” says Kimani.

“Criminalising seed exchange and sharing will deny farmers their livelihoods, encourage biopiracy and reduce plant genetic diversity which affect the resilience of our farming communities at a time when we are experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis. Limiting the rights of farmers to share, exchange and sell seeds in the informal seed sector will reduce diverse seed access thus further aggravating food and nutritional insecurity in the country,” he adds.

In September last year, Greenpeace Africa had called for the abolition of subsidies that it claimed favoured established agricultural multinationals at the expense of small-scale farmers.

Reacting to a report by FAO, UNDP and UNEP that revealed more than half a trillion of State subsidies were doing more harm than good to farmers and to the environment, the NGO wanted the enactment of policies and incentives that would support small scale producers as they account for the largest share in all the of food consumed in the country.

The body further asked the government to support organic plant extracts and biopesticides as opposed to conventional pesticides which have been said to have adverse ecological effects. – Kna