SEED MATTERS

Farmers shock as sharing seeds could land them six months in jail

Kenya signed the law to be able to sell flowers and other agricultural products to the EU

In Summary

• Daniel Wanjama, CEO of Seeds Savers Network, said there is a need to recognise the farmer-managed seed system just like the commercialised seed system.

• The Kenyan Seed and Plant Varieties Act discourages farmers from selling or sharing seeds but in Tanzania and Uganda, a farmer is free to sell or share seeds.

Kikopey Seed Saving Self Help Group chairperson John Wainaina at his individual Seed Bank at Gema farm in Gilgil Sub-County in Nakuru.
SEED SAVING Kikopey Seed Saving Self Help Group chairperson John Wainaina at his individual Seed Bank at Gema farm in Gilgil Sub-County in Nakuru.
Image: LOISE MACHARIA

You may be fined Sh20,000 or face a jail term of six months or both if found guilty of selling uncertified seeds.

This is according to the revised Seeds and Plant Varieties Act of 2012, Part 2(8) on restrictions on sales of seeds of unindexed plant varieties.

The Kenyan Seed and Plant Varieties Act discourages farmers from selling or sharing seeds but in Tanzania and Uganda, a farmer is free to sell or share seeds.

The Act says that if found guilty, one risks a jail term of six months or a fine of Sh20,000 or both.

Alice Wanjiru, a farmer from Kirima in Gichugu sub County, Kirinyaga County, says she is not aware of such a law in Kenya but it is the African culture to share seeds with neighbors.  

“Once I harvest my potatoes or beans, I always save some for planting and it is our African culture to share seeds with our neighbors especially when you get a bumper harvest. I am not aware of any law that says contrary to this. It doesn’t make sense for me to buy seeds every time I want to plant yet I can save the surplus I harvest and use them to plant or even borrow from my neighbour,” she said.

Daniel Maingi, a scientist with the Kenya Food Rights Alliance, said under the Union for the Protection of New Plant Variety (UPOV) law that Kenya has domesticated, farmers should not share, replant, exchange, or sell seeds without permission or without paying royalties.

He spoke at a capacity-building workshop for the media, policymakers, academia, and scientists on promoting a seed policy framework that fosters food sovereignty in Kenya.

The workshop was organised by the African Biodiversity Network (ABN) and Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya-BIBA).

Maingi said that Kenya signed the law to be able to sell flowers and other agricultural products to the EU but it is now coming back to bite the smallholder farmer.

“This is because if you buy seeds from any of the corporations, the law says that you not only have to pay a hefty sum but you will be stopped from replanting or saving on that seed. The UPOV law that Kenya has domesticated curtails the smallholder farmer by taking away his/her right to do whatever they want as allowed by the Constitution of Kenya,” he said.

Maingi called on policymakers to address this and work out a situation like in Malaysia where farmers are protected by the industry and there is no law that is taking advantage of the other.

Daniel Wanjama, CEO of Seeds Savers Network, said there is a need to recognise the farmer-managed seed system just like the commercialised seed system.

“This will avoid criminalising the practice of farmers saving and sharing the seeds they have. Kenya is seed insecure and 95 per cent of the vegetable seeds being used in the country is imported. Most of the pulse seeds, such as sorghum and millet, are in the custody of farmers, hence the need to integrate the farmer seed management system into law,” said Wanjama.

Venter Mwongera, communications and advocacy coordinator at ABN, said farmers attest that the indigenous seed is a seed of continuity because of its high nutritional value, is resilient and can be used in many seasons.

“Encouraging farmers to select, save and recuperate the lost indigenous seed while also supporting them to have community seedbanks is an approach that could highly contribute to seed and food sovereignty in Africa,” she added.