Nairobi, 31 May 2022 – Smallholder farmers across the country have been shocked to learn that the Seed and Plant varieties Act Cap 326 of 2012 prohibits farmers from sharing, exchanging or selling uncertified and unregistered seeds. This legislation, punishes offenders with a prison sentence of upto a maximum of 2 years or a fine of up to KES 1,000,000 or both. The farmers were informed about the revised law during a week-long joint Greenpeace Africa and Seed Savers Network field trip in Machakos, Kitui, Makueni, Nakuru and Kakamega counties.
The law has remained obscure with only very few Kenyans being aware of the full extent of its punitive nature. Farming communities in these counties were astounded that no public participation was carried out prior to the making of this law.
“The government has failed in its obligation of enacting laws to protect the ownership of indigenous seeds and intellectual property rights in indigenous knowledge on seeds in Kenya. The current seed laws reinforce neo-colonialism and potentially give big multinationals, big business and profit-driven entities a free leeway to pirate local resources,” said Claire Nasike, Greenpeace Africa’s Campaigner.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 which is the supreme law of the land, has expressly recognised the existence and the need to preserve indigenous seeds commonly referred to as informal seeds by placing an obligation upon parliament to enact legislation that would protect the ownership of such indigenous seeds.
“Such draconian seed laws have paved the way for a neo-colonial capitalistic culture of exploiting farmers to thrive – by encouraging corporate control on seeds and the food system in Kenya. These punitive laws will limit the farmers’ ability to grow their desired, nutrient dense, locally available crops leading to a loss in the food diversity from farm to plate,” continued Nasike.
Studies have shown that 90% of the seeds planted in Kenya are from informal seed systems. 80% of smallholder farmers in Kenya depend on informal seed systems which include sharing seeds with other farmers, selling and buying at local markets. Denying these farmers the right to use their indigenous seeds is a theft of the biological resources which will translate to low food production leading to food insecurity.
Damaris Kiloko Mutiso, a farmer from Machakos County said she is not aware that such a law exists.
“Sharing of seeds is an old-age tradition which has been handed down to us from our forefathers. Buying certified seeds from the Agrovet for every planting season is costly and also differs from my culture. Some of the certified seeds are coated in chemical pesticides. Their use is often accompanied by the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers which have an adverse effect on my health,” she said.
“Indigenous seeds are seeds of continuity because of their high nutritional value, are resistant to pests and diseases and can be used in many seasons. Having indigenous seeds allows me to plant on time regardless of whether I have money or not. The government should recognise smallholders farmers like myself as informal seed players and enact laws that protect us,” she added.
Civil Society and Kenyans at large have publicly criticized the law terming it as a tactic to control Kenya’s food system and rid the local farmers of their livelihoods. They have been challenging the government to ensure the rights of farmers are protected by the industry and that there is no law taking advantage of local farming communities..
“Seeds are part of our cultural heritage and are the most crucial input in farming. Small scale farmers have over the years improved various crops through selection, seed saving and sharing. Their role as seed custodians and breeders should be supported by the government by enacting laws that protect them,” said Dominic Kimani, Advocacy Officer at Seed Savers Network, Kenya.
“Criminalising seed exchange and sharing will deny farmers their livelihoods, encourage biopiracy and reduce plant genetic diversity which affect the resilience of our farming communities at a time when we are experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis. Limiting the rights of farmers to share, exchange and sell seeds in the informal seed sector will reduce diverse seed access thus further aggravating food and nutritional insecurity in the country,” added Kimani.
Greenpeace Africa and Seed Savers Network call for an amendment of these punitive seed laws to recognise and allow the sale, exchange and sharing of indigenous seeds in Kenya and an integration of the farmer seed management system into the law.
Greenpeace Africa Press Desk: [email protected]
Hellen Kahaso Dena,
Communications and Story Manager,
[email protected], +254 717 104 144