By Nyaradzo Nyere
Various types of small grains are stored at community seed banks, set up by a local non-governmental organization (NGO), Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), as a mechanism to promote food security and climate change adaptation.
Patrick Kasasa, CTDT programmes manager (Agriculture Biodiversity), said the organisation started working on community seed banks (CSBs) in 1998 in Zimbabwe’s Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe (UMP) district in Mashonaland East Province, and in Tsholotsho district in Matabeleland North Province in 2000.
Here, the first CSBs were constructed. This was after realising that farmers were losing their planting materials, especially after devastating droughts.
“For example, during the 1992 drought, farmers suffered severe loses of local crop diversity as they failed to harvest anything resulting in their failure to save any seed for the following season,” said Kasasa.
A seed bank is a storage unit, usually in the form of a building that is used to store seeds to preserve their genetic diversity. Seeds that were used centuries ago are not used frequently nowadays. Seed banks are, therefore, used to preserve their cultural and historical value.
Seeds in seed banks are stored at a constant low temperate and moisture to guard them against the loss of genetic properties. Also, seed banks can be considered as seed libraries that contain information about combating plant stress and other seed information.
To date, CTDT, development partners, local authorities, farmers and farmer organisations have constructed 15 seed banks in Mudzi, UMP (Mashonaland East Province), Rushinga, Mt Darwin (Mashonaland Central), Tsholotsho, Murehwa (Mashonaland East), Chiredzi (Masvingo Province), Umzingwane (Matabeleland South), Umguza, Nkayi and Bubi (Matabeleland North).
Farmers Association of Community Self-Help Investment Groups (FACHIG), a not-for-profit organisation working at the community level, also constructed two community seed banks in Mt Darwin. Dabane Trust, another local NGO, constructed one seed bank in Matobo district (Matabeleland South), with technical and logistical support from CTDT, bringing the total to 17 nationally.
Edson Mutyoramwendo, a volunteer chairperson of a CSB in Chibika, Murehwa, said their seed bank allows farmers to grow drought-resistant crops and guard against climate change. “The service is free and farmers can bring their seed for safekeeping and maintenance,” he said.
Mutoramwendo, however, said the emergence of the novel corona virus has affected farmers who recently harvested in April 2020. They could not bank their seeds as travel and movement were restricted under the country’s lockdown measures to minimise the spread of the disease.
Kasasa said seed banks act as a strategic seed reserve and storage facilities for seeds of local crop varieties and arrest crop diversity erosion. In most cases, CSBs members discourage each other from depositing seed of hybrid crop varieties, such as maize.
“Farmers deposit seed in the community seed banks either as individuals or as groups for future use. The seed bank management committees are responsible for the management of these facilities. The committees get records of the varieties that each farmer or groups of farmers deposits and the quantities deposited.
They also keep records of the quantities that each farmer or group withdraws for instance at the beginning of each agricultural season,” he said.
Kasasa added that the seed banks are linked to the National Gene Bank (NBG) of Zimbabwe and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Gene bank in Zambia. Staff from the NGB visit the seed banks especially during seed and food fairs to access the levels of crop diversity in the mentioned districts.
Seed and food fair are events where farmers showcase seed from their seed banks and meals made from growing such crops. They also take advantage of such fairs to collect materials, seeds of crop varieties that are not stored in the national facility.
A community seed fair in Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe district, Mashonaland East Province. Photo Credit: CTDT.
Kasasa said seed banks help in adapting to climate change as they offer a diverse range of seed that is readily available in the communities where such facilities are located.
“Farmers who deposit seed in these facilities are always planting in time as they do not have to wait for government or donor seed programmes at the beginning of each agricultural season. They simply withdraw the seed that they deposited in the CSBs. Seed of the preferred varieties is readily available in the communities,” he said.
He added that seed banks have saved farmers income and time as they do not have to buy seed some of which is not suitable for their agro-ecological regions. Most of the farmers in the communities around such facilities cannot afford to buy hybrid seeds which are sold by seed companies.
“Seed of a number of crops such as Bambara nuts, local varieties of cowpeas and groundnuts, are not available in formal shops and is only availed to communities through farmer exchanges or from the CSBs,” he said.
Magret Mhuruyengwe, a volunteer chairperson at Mupinga community seed bank in Chiredzi, says the seed banks have assisted farmers to achieve better yields in the context of climate variability and change.
“We have also managed to share drought- resistance crops with other people who do not have,” she said.