Vihiga farmers cash in on multiplying indigenous vegetable seeds

By , People Daily Digital
Tuesday, December 21st, 2021 00:00 | 4 mins read
Joseck Mukuna shows some of his preserved seeds. Photo/PD/MILLIAM MURIGI

Joseck Mukuna gently walks through his leafy amaranth vegetation, also known as terere  growing on his farm in Ebulwanda village, Vihiga County. Also greening his farm is the black nightshade (managu), spider plant (sagaa/saget), African kale (kanzira), slenderleaf (mito), jute mallow (murenda), pumpkin (malenge) and cowpeas (lukhubi).

With increasing malnutrition and key nutrient deficiency of zinc, iron and vitamins in Western Kenya occasioned by changing diets, Joseck is among a group of farmers who are reversing this trend by investing in the cultivation, consumption, preservation and sale of indigenous vegetables and seeds to boost nutrition and incomes.

The farmers have been trained on indigenous vegetable seed multiplication by a local outfit, Seed Savers Network, which has also helped them establish seed banks, where most of the imperilled and rare varieties are preserved.

“I rely on farming to make a living. I grow the traditional vegetables for consumption, as well as for seeds.

I also store and preserve a wide range of species and varieties of indigenous vegetable seeds in my seed bank at home,” he says.

Before venturing into the multiplication business last year, Mukuna says he only used to grow vegetables, which he produced for his family consumption.

However, after receiving training by the network, he made up his mind to take up seed multiplication as his full-time job. 

He now produces indigenous vegetable seeds on his almost one-acre land, which he sells to smallholder farmers in his community and other farmer groups across the country.

“We are training farmers on seed multiplication and community or individual seed bank stocking.

Our aim is to ensure that these seeds are readily available and affordable. We are working with about 300 farmers,” said Dalmas Mitei the project coordinator.

He says there is a great need to keep those indigenous seeds and pass them on to the next generation, because the seeds are better at resisting diseases and coping with varying weather conditions thus no need for using chemicals.

When Agribiz  visited his farm, he narrated how farming has become different from what he was used to before Seed Savers Network brought significant change to his life. 

Today, he is one of the well-known agriculture businessmen around the Emuhaya sub-county.

His hard work has paid off as his income keeps increasing season after season.

Minimal risks 

“Initially I was utilising an eighth-acre piece of land, but after I started multiplying seeds, I have managed to increase the acreage.

I have leased a half-acre piece of land to keep up with the the demand for the seeds. However, exploitation by the middlemen is quite demoralising,” he said.

Despite being a seed multiplier, he still produces vegetables for consumption, but to ensure that he gets more seeds than vegetable, one of the sacrifices he had to make was to half the vegetable harvesting period.

He says he is happy to be one of the people in the region trying to restore local seeds that were lost years ago or are on the verge of becoming extinct.

With indigenous vegetables, Joseck explains that one invests less with minimal risks and is assured of high income.

The seed banks also come with numerous advantages, including preserving the quality of the seeds as opposed to those sold in the markets, whose source is unknown and which are susceptible to pests and diseases. 

Mitei says for the one year that the network has been working with the farmers trying to restore the diversity of indigenous crops, they have recorded some changes. 

Unlike before when residents used to rely on exotic vegetables, they have now started growing and consuming indigenous vegetables.

Apart from that, traditional vegetable seeds are now readily available unlike before when one would walk for kilometres to source them.

“Seed multiplication is important in that it helps enrich the biodiversity of a local area by making available many indigenous seed varieties to farmers who previously had no access to the seeds.

It is also an income-generating business since multipliers are able to sell those seeds and earn from them,” added Mitei.

Tasty and nutritious 

Daniel Wanjama, the network’s director says the aim of the project is to support farmers to revive and preserve local indigenous vegetable seeds that have existed for many years.

For the lost varieties, he says that they are getting those seeds from the Genetic Resources Research Institute, popularly known as Gene Bank.

“We realised that we have lost quite a good number of these indigenous vegetables and we are about to lose many more.

That is why we decided to work with farmers to revive and preserve them. So far, we can say that the project is a success since we have seen farmers produce and preserve these seeds.

Also, consumption rates of these vegetables have also gone up,” says Wanjama.

Nutritionist Lillian Aluso who also doubles up as a Bioversity International researcher says indigenous vegetables have many advantages as they are tasty, nutritious, and healthy.

The good thing about these vegetables is that they are grown without chemicals and inorganic fertiliser.

“Dietary diversity is key in ensuring the community is healthy. That’s why I encourage farmers to diversify on their farms, to ensure more nutritious meals for their families, especially for children under five years old and women of reproductive age,” said Aluso.

The seed bank project is a project of international research organisations, seed breeders and farmers led by the Alliance of Bioversity International and International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (The Alliance) have been carrying out intensive research on hardy indigenous and high-value crops, such as beans, finger millet and sorghum in the wake of climate change.