• Gebeyehu said some companies producing seeds are on a mission to make money.
• Those opposed to the new technology say they are harmful to the soil, environment, humans and plants.
A lobby has called for the preservation of threatened indigenous seeds to enhance food security.
The African Biodiversity Network general coordinator Dr Fassil Gebeyehu said powerful external forces continue to divert the region from solutions as they push for the privatisation and industrialisation of land, knowledge, and biodiversity in the name of poverty alleviation.
“Promoting indigenous seed breeding and revival of lost seeds not only safeguards communities’ local ecosystems but also strengthens their resilience against corporate interests and environmental challenges,” he said.
Gebeyehu made the remarks on Monday at Stanley Hotel when African Biodiversity Network marked two decades of commitment to African biodiversity protection and building communities’ resilience.
The commemoration was marked under the theme “Celebrating 20 years of African Biodiversity Network: Nurturing community livelihood through re-connection with nature and culture”.
ABN focuses on indigenous knowledge, ecological agriculture, and biodiversity-related rights, influencing policy and legislation.
It builds the capacity of the communities on how to preserve their indigenous seed, and teach them agro-ecological practices.
ABN also works closely with elders within communities so they can pass down the ecological knowledge and customs practiced over generations.
The idea of forming the ABN was thought of in 1996 in response to growing concerns in the continent over threats to biodiversity, the need to develop strong African positions and legal instruments at the national, regional, and international levels.
Currently, ABN has 41 partners drawn from 19 African countries. They are Benin, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Central Africa Republic, Cameroon, Gabon, Morocco and Egypt.
Gebeyehu said indigenous seeds are free of pests and diseases, and are able to grow under extremely difficult conditions.
He said some companies producing seeds are on a mission to make money.
“In order to make money sustainably, they have to create mechanisms to keep farmers being dependent on their supplies,” he said.
Gebeyehu said such companies know that the continuous challenge is food insecurity and they continue coming up with a narrative that they need to feed the growing population with their seeds.
He said such seeds often come with certain conditions such as fertiliser, pesticides.
Gebeyehu said farmers increasingly become dependent on those seeds, making some of the indigenous seeds go extinct.
During the commemoration, experts said there is an urgent need to revive indigenous seed breeding to empower communities for food sovereignty.
Experts said indigenous seeds are facing existential threat due to corporate greed, changing climate and pervasive poverty.
The debate on indigenous seeds comes even as some agribusiness companies, governmental entities, and some non-governmental organisations promote GMO seeds and chemical farming practices.
A ban on GMO foods in Kenya that was imposed in 2012 was lifted by the Cabinet in October 2022.
The ban was imposed in November 2012 following a Cabinet and presidential decree.
The then Public Health minister Beth Mugo ordered the removal of all genetically modified foods from the market and to enforce a ban on GM imports.
She pointed out that the ban undermined Kenya’s legal and regulatory system for agricultural biotechnology codified in its National Biosafety Act of 2009.
Those opposed to the new technology say they are harmful to the soil, environment, humans and plants.
A section of experts said such practices disregard the crucial role played by indigenous species and micro-organisms important in preserving soil fertility and biodiversity.