This morning on the news on Super FM, I heard a member of parliament (MP) lamenting that Ugandan farmers are no longer saving seeds from the harvest for the next planting season. The MP said something to the effect that it is because these days farmers sell off everything while it is still in-field and even before it has matured. When it does mature, the buyer harvest and takes all without the farmer having any seed left to save.
The MP decried this practice and encouraged farmers to save seed so that they cease to become seed beggars every season. The MP said that after selling off everything and not saving seed, farmers then hold their respective MPs hosting asking them: “it is planting season now, aren’t you going to give us seed?” As I listened, I couldn’t help but wonder how the MP does not appreciate and link the status quo of farmers not saving seed to government policy as the root cause.
Increasingly, case in point, government is promoting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) whose seeds can only be planted once. They cannot be replanted. Every season the farmer must buy seed from transnational seed companies. Not only must they buy seed each season, they must also buy inorganic chemical fertilizers and pesticides that are needed to maintain GMOs in-field.
Characteristically, farming of GMOs requires mono-cropping where only one crop is planted on large sections of the land. This necessarily means that seeds for other crops not mono-cropped are rendered irrelevant and are not conserved. Instead of Uganda using our comparative advantage of smallholder organic mixed agriculture and which is much more friendly to our environment, in policy and action the government is promoting so-called ‘modern farming’.
Modernize agriculture in such a way that farmers stop being ‘subsistence farmers’ and all become ‘modern farmers’ who grow to sell and then buy to eat is the government’s message. A message which is based on a fallacy that the majority of Ugandans, smallholder farmers, are ‘subsistence farmers’. This is not true. If they were, then how can one explain the fresh foods being sold in our farmer markets countrywide? Nearly all of our farmers are producing for the market.
So yes, farmers are not keeping seeds from the harvest, but it is because: 1) It is feasible that the seeds cannot be replanted; 2) they have ‘modernized’ to mono-cropping GMOs, because the government has encouraged them to do so; and 3) organic mixed agriculture, which promotes farmer managed seed systems is demonized by government and is becoming extinct.
So, our dear lamenting MP, you the legislators are the ones who have created free-seed-dependency among farmers. Your lamentations in the media are not helpful. To make a positive change, you need to lament in parliament and advocate for the right policies – those that promote seed sovereignty through farmer managed seed systems.
Photo @Hajjat Sebyala in her backyard garden.