Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Setting up of gene banks bears fruits

Setting up of gene banks bears fruits


Matopo Community seed bank

Matopo Community seed bank

Pamenus Tuso, Features Correspondent
Zimbabwe’s domestication of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) is beginning to bear fruits following the successful setting up of several community gene banks in the country.

ITPGRFA, which was adopted by the 31st Session of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations on November 3, 2001, is a comprehensive international agreement which aims at guaranteeing food security through the conservation and exchange of seed species.

The treaty also promotes the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of their use in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security.

Community Technology Development (CTDO) in conjunction with various stakeholders such as Agritex and Dabane Trust is spearheading the localisation of the treaty in the country. So far, CTDO in collaboration with the various implementing partners have constructed community seed banks in Matobo (Matabeleland South province), Mudzi (Mashonaland East province), and Rushinga and Mt Darwin districts in Mashonaland Central province.

Ms Joyce Dube, Dabane Trust programmes manager

Ms Joyce Dube, Dabane Trust programmes manager

“So far we’ve constructed four community seed banks in Mudzi, Rushinga, Matobo, and Mt Darwin. The objective of these community seed banks is to conserve traditional seeds such as sorghum, rapoko and all the traditional varieties. The idea is coming from the challenge of climate change which we’re facing,” said Mr Hilton Mbozi CTDO assistant programmes manager responsible for the agro-biodiversity programme.

Mr Mbozi said most communal farmers cannot afford to buy expensive hybrid seed whenever drought occurs.

“If the crop wilts as a result of drought, farmers don’t have money to go back to the shops and buy hybrid seed. Apart from that, hybrid seed is no longer fitting into the kind of seasons that we are now experiencing these days. Now, with community seed banks it’s kind of a strategy to say when a crop fails, the farmer can always go to the community seed bank to withdraw the seed and the farmer can replant,” he said.

By setting up the seed banks, Mr Mbozi said communities are also promoting ITPGRFA.

He said for a long time farmers have not been getting benefits out of their indigenous resources and knowledge but following the localisation of the treaty, they will now be able to benefit from their efforts.

“Community seed banking is one way of trying to domesticate that treaty because the treaty talks about beneficiation. What benefits are farmers getting from their indigenous knowledge which they’re using to process the seed all these years? What are the benefits out of their efforts? We know the breeders come to the communities. They come and take these materials and even the knowledge and go and breed hybrid seed using these materials and knowledge yet the farmers get nothing.”

Mr Mbozi said it is unfair that while breeders are protected by the law, the farmers are not allowed to sell their own seed which they are either storing in their seed banks or their homesteads. The farmers are only allowed to exchange seed within a radius of 40 kilometres.

Mr Hilton Mbozi (CTDO) assistant programmes manager

Mr Hilton Mbozi (CTDO) assistant programmes manager

Following the introduction of the seed banking concept, Mr Mbodzi said farmers will now be allowed to access and benefit from their indigenous seeds.

Dabane Trust programme’s manager, Ms Joyce Dube, whose organisation was the implementing partner in the construction of the Matobo community seed bank said the facility will bring relief to rural farmers who have been travelling long distances to seek seed.

“The Matobo community seed bank is going to cut transport costs to farmers but the most important thing is that farmers are going to have seed suitable for this region which is dry. Currently on the market, we don’t have sorghum or millet that is suitable for this region” said Ms Dube.

She said the farmers will store the germaplasm of all the scarce locally available species in the bank.

“Some of the seed species have long gone. So we’ll try to get as much as that from all the farmers, store in the bank for more years and when there’s a loss of seed out there, the farmers can come and collect.”

The seed bank which is located in ward nine in St Anna area in the district comprises a room where a collection of small seed materials are kept. The other compartment of the bank also includes a room where small germaplasm bottles from research institutions are also kept.

The other rooms house large bulk of processed seed.

Ms Dube said the seed centre is also going to complement seed fairs in the area.

Dabane Trust recently held a food and seed fair at the centre where more than 130 farmers from the district showcased various traditional seed species as well as other farm produce.

“This centre is certainly going to host combined food and seed fairs where farmers normally come together and exchange seed. If for example, farmer A from another community has got a certain variety which a farmer from a certain ward does not have, they can exchange. They can also sell each other or barter trade,” Ms Dube.

Dabane Trust provided building materials such as cement and bricks towards the construction of the centre while the locals provided labour as well as moulded the bricks.

An agricultural assistant at Matopos Research Station, Mr Mbekezeli Mathanda said the seed bank will enable farmers to keep their seed safe.

“Farmers have been wasting a lot of time sourcing seed. Now with this community seed bank, they can easily get seed at their doorsteps and avoid late planting,” said Mr Mathanda.

He added that the Matopo Research Station will always be at hand to give the farmers all the necessary technical assistance on how to breed and keep the seed in good condition.


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