The 1998 Maragwa Seed Show
Tharaka, Kenya, 6 March 1998. IT Kenya*
Seeds on Display
The Maragwa community seed show is an informal participatory event, which is held after the harvest. During this time, farmers come together for a day at the Chief's camp in Maragwa to display their harvest. The displays are then evaluated by a panel of judges for diversity and variety and best displays are awarded prize.
During this year's seed show, many varieties of crops were displayed including legumes; cereals like millet. sorghum and maize. The grand prize for the best quality of seeds and stand with the highest number of crop varieties was won by Gakia Seed Banking Group.
The show provides an opportunity for information sharing and exchange in addition to stimulating crop diversity. The seed show has proved very popular since its inception in 1996.
This year's show was held on 6 March under sponsorship of IT Kenya in collaboration with the Maragwa Locational Development Committee (LDC). The LDC raised awareness of the show in the villages, advised on what prizes to be bought, constructed a barbed wire perimeter fence around the show ground and supervised the clearing of the grounds. They also hosted a dinner party for the guests at the end of the show.
For its part, IT bought the prizes, provided publicity materials like brochures and provided technical advice on organisation of the show itself
11 Variety Seed Mixture
Some insights into the Show
A total of 103 women and 99 men attended the show. Displays were mounted by 29 women and 47 men. Women farmers had more seed varieties than men.
Interviews with 15 participating farmers revealed that:
When these fifteen sample farmers were individually asked whether the seed show should be held next year. 97% of them said the seed show should be held every March because this was the period following major harvests in the area. It would allow show-enthusiast farmers in the location to participate because that is when they have fresh harvest to display. They gave the following reasons why the show should continue to be held:
The show transcends Maragwa
The Maragwa community seed 'show is attracting interest not just from local farmers, but also from scientists and development agents from various local and international institutions. At this year's seed show were two scientists from the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute's sub-Saharan office in Nairobi (IPGRI), two others from the National Gene Bank of Kenya, a multi-disciplinary team of five researchers and development workers from the Applied Research Unit (ARU) of the Laikipia ASAL Programme and one scientist from KARI RRC-Embu. There was also a UK-based colleague from ITDG's Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation project. Most important three farmers from Laikipia, two from Mwingi, two from Isiolo and four from Makueni districts (all ASAL areas) also participated.
More crop varieties were displayed at this year's show than last year's though the quality of seeds displayed was relatively poor than the previous two years'. The poor quality was attributed to effects of excessive rains which caused rotting and fungal infestation of the crop during harvesting period.
New varieties of sorghum and cowpeas were recorded in more than 35 stands. KARl's Mtama 1, a sorghum variety introduced about three years ago featured in all stands this year, unlike in the two previous years when only two farmers displayed the variety. Notable this year also was the atilano variety of cowpeas which was displayed by two farmers in last year's seed show. This year, it was displayed by 22 farmers.
Yellow and black grams also featured on more stands this year than previous years. The more traditional and popular cowpeas varieties of mugeta, kaguru and itune featured at all stands.
Though the exposure of farmers to crop varieties at the seed shows has to an extent had an influence over increasing seed varieties, IT Kenya cannot be totally credited for this positive change. Hopefully, the agricultural biodiversity conservation study, which is beginning in this area, might reveal the correlation.
National Gene Bank and Chief Conclude Deal
Accessing rare crop varieties
While popularising community seed shows, IT is weary of potential danger posed by 'piracy' of indigenous plant resources. Local communities, too, are increasingly becoming aware of ongoing debates on intellectual property rights and the Chief of Maragwa, for example, questioned the intention of the two scientists from the national gene bank of Kenya when they approached him with a request to collect samples of indigenous crop varieties. After discussions and having sufficiently convinced him of their intention (to preserve the seeds at the national gene bank in the interest of this community and the country at large), the two were allowed to take away six varieties of sorghum, three of pearl millet, three of pumpkin, and assorted wild fruit types. The scientists promised to bring crop varieties from other Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) areas to the next seed show. Maragwa farmers can then access such seeds and try them on their own farms.
Promoters of community seed shows should, therefore, be clear about the intentions of visitors who come soliciting for seeds from farmers lest they are accused of colluding with the 'outsiders' to 'rob' communities of their genetic resources. IT Kenya advocates for education of farmers on issues of intellectual property rights and the principles of the convention on biodiversity.
Modest success to be proud of
These are indicators of success, albeit modest ones. IT Kenya owes this success to: involving all the stakeholders including government line departments, local community groups, school heads and teachers and farmers right from the start. Such involvement creates a strong sense of ownership of the process and the actual event.
Exchanging Information and Seeds
The existing partnership between It Kenya and the LDC makes it difficult for the Maragwa community to assume responsibility of running the seed show. If the seed show is to be sustained by the community and continue to be held annually, several fundamental changes are required like:
The LDC also began to entry fee for the seed show. This seems a step towards assuming greater responsibility and eventual take-over of the show by the LDC and, by extension, the community.
PO Box 39493
Tel: + 254 2 719313
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See also: reports from 1999 Seed Shows in Maragwa and Gikingo Locations
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