“Strategies to Support Resilient Farmer-Led Seed Systems Through the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Agrobiodiversity”, was the topic for a round-table discussion between staff in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) and Biowatch.
Dean and Head of SAEES, Professor Albert Modi, welcomed delegates and introduced the group of about 26 participants. Modi is recognised for his championing of sustainable agriculture and the value of indigenous knowledge in informing scientific research.
‘We are honoured that our research group has hosted various organisations, including UKZN Ecological Sciences, the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS), and the Farmer Support Group (FSG),’ said Modi.
‘We now give a special welcome to Ms Rose Williams and Mr Lawrence Mkhaliphi of Biowatch; Mr Kudzai Kusena of the Zimbabwe Gene Bank; Ms Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss of the Seed and Knowledge Initiative (SKI); Dr Ragassa Feyissa of Ethio-Organic Seed Action (EOSA) in Ethiopia, NGO representatives from Durban and Mr John Wilson, a seed saver who started the permaculture movement in Zimbabwe.’
Modi described the importance he has attached to seed science since beginning his career as an agronomist for a seed company and interacting frequently with small-holder farmers, realising that their approaches could be more sustainable than commercial activities. He said an important role for small-holders was the establishment of a gene bank to demonstrate how much ethno-science they possess, which includes acknowledging the extent to which their confidence has been undermined.
The day’s discussions were facilitated by seed saver Mr John Wilson and there were presentations from, among others, Pschorn-Strauss, Dr Maxwell Mudhara of the FSG, Dr Regassa Feyissa from EOSA, and Mkhaliphi.
Topics discussed included introductions of seed sovereignty frameworks, the need for gene banks, farmer situations, constraints and participation, agroecological approaches for sustainable agricultural development, and climate change.
The programme included a discussion session where issues raised included the role of traditional tribal leaders in food sovereignty, how to encourage academic institutions to lead in this arena and contribute to knowledge generation, the recognition of Indigenous Knowledge Systems, and the role of researchers and NGOs in community engagement and knowledge transfer.
Moving forward, Modi emphasised that silos between basic sciences should be broken down and other kinds of knowledge should be included to increase the system’s resilience, achieved through collaboration between farmer and “formal” systems of knowledge in an environment where both parties have more confidence. The purpose of this collaboration would be to challenge food insecurity and making a resilient seed system part of rural economic development.
In closing, Pschorn-Strauss thanked participants, saying that seed was a gift from nature that multiplied with use - almost a magical thing. She also emphasised the importance of diversity on farms.