Feature: Seed banks give women a chance to mitigate climate change

Source: Feature: Seed banks give women a chance to mitigate climate change – NewsDay Zimbabwe


MARVELS Rudairo looked at her newly built house, which she managed to build through proceeds from a seed bank project to mitigate climate change issues by women in Mudzi.

“When we started, this whole seed bank project seemed complex and I never thought I would be able to grasp it.  But now, whenever I look at what I’ve achieved so far, I have nothing to say except to thank God and the coordinators of this project,” Rudairo said, showing off her new house.

Rudairo, a 48 year old woman from Mudzi is one of the females that have been championing climate change mitigation programmes in the district through developing seed banks which have become handy in times of need.

Seed banks have become one of the latest trends to combat climate change impacts, and for women like Rudairo it has been a major breakthrough that has resulted in her making money from the project.

They (seed banks) are facilities that assist farmers, communities and households that are affected by climate change to access locally adapted crop varieties, and enhance related indigenous knowledge and skills in plant management, including seed selection and distribution.

Climate change has left many women vulnerable to broken marriages as men migrate looking for greener pastures, while the girl child has been subjected to early child marriages and teen pregnancies.

Celebrating this milestone, Rudairo narrated how she had struggled to make ends meet after her husband passed on 10 years ago.

“Climate change has become real. It was very difficult after my husband died but through the help of a Harare-based non-governmental organization, the Community Technology Development Trust, we have been able to create seed banks to make various seeds of indigenous grains more widely available.

“There are many women who have benefited. Some are widows, others are divorced; but we have found something to do and earn a living without depending on men. Those that are married have also been relieved of bothersome husbands as they are now able to bring something on the table,” she said.

In seed banks, seeds are cleaned, deposited, stored and fumigated by a management committee. The seeds are stored in small, dark rooms in the seed banks so that they are sheltered from the heat. The seed banks function as associations and are run almost like a traditional bank. Farmers borrow seeds, which are often provided by the local community. After the harvest, they repay their loans plus in-kind interest.

Community Technology Development Trust CTDT programmes manager Patrick Kasasa said over 60% farmers that are involved in the careful growing and selection of a diverse range of crops and their different varieties that are resilient to the effects of climate change are women.

Under this programme CTDT is working in five districts of Chiredzi, UMP, Mudzi, Tsholotsho and Rushinga with approximately 350 active Farmer Field Schools with an average membership of 25 people, bringing the total number of farmers to about 8750.

“The women under one of CTDT’s Sowing Diversity =Harvesting Security (SDHS) Programme which is supported by Oxfam form the majority of farmer participants. These farmers work with breeders from the Crop Breeding Institute within the Ministry of Agriculture to select adapted crop varieties. The women are given a range of varieties of mostly sorghum, millet and legumes by breeders. Over a period of say three seasons, the women carefully select those varieties that are more resilient to climate change, and are resistant to pests and diseases, as well as high yielding,” he said.

“The selected varieties are harvested and their seeds are carefully selected and stored in Community Seed Banks for future use and evaluation. The women farmers are therefore contributing to increasing crop diversity in the communities where they live. Increasing crop diversity is key in adaptation to climate change.”

Kasasa said the biggest challenge had been the shortage of resources to expand into other districts and wards in the country in order to establish more Farmer Field Schools and Community Seed Banks so that other communities can also benefit.

Patrick Mutepeya, the secretary of Chimukoko Community seed bank, which was opened in 2017, and is located in Mashonaland East in Mudzi District, also said nine out of the 12 members of his committee are women.

“The seeds collected are available from traditional crops such as Pearl (Nyagushe), maize (Mbuyamungafe), cowpeas (chikomu), sweet potatoes (mbambara) and others. It is run by an elected community committee member who oversees its daily operations. The bank was built through the help of CTDO and OXFAM NOVIB. The farmers who deposited their Germplasm can withdraw their seed for planting, and can leave a few for future use, which are then packed in jars. I have managed to build a house, and I bought two cows from the proceeds.

“I also attend global Innovation crop workshops on Zoom about climate change, seedbanks, and a food summit collaborating with NGOs, breeders, and CTDO. The community has turned into the practice of growing drought resilient crops to mitigate climate change.  .Our area is in ecological zone four, where there is little rainfall.  The community there tends to grow small gains and to store them in the seed banks for future use. We have gained a lot of knowlege and benefits from SD=HS.  Seedbanks have also now become a tourist attraction across the globe. Women are the seed custodians and have benefited a lot in seed exchange programs, workshops, seed fairs and food fairs.”

For Majory Jeke from Murehwa, the seedbanks program has placed women in leadership positions through equipping them with knowledge on climate change mitigation measures, which they are now able to share with others.

“We are now able to be leaders of different organizations and are now self-reliant.  We attend seed diversity fairs to exchange seeds. Yes, we face some challenges, for example, some of us as women; especially young women are under the strict control of their husbands.  But our main challenge is climate change. We do ordinary farming but these days we are doing Sowing Diversity = Harvesting Security (SD=HS) programs.  We are happy that we now have adequate knowledge about climate change issues,” she said.

Seed banks facilities have proved to help enhance the resilience of farmers; in particular communities and households mostly affected by climate change as they can secure improved access to diverse, locally adapted crops and varieties.  They can enhance related indigenous knowledge and skills in plant management, including seed selection and distribution.

A 2017 field research conducted by Oxfam in Zimbabwe shows that access to the right seeds at the right time, and for the right price, is critical to being able to produce enough food to eat in the face of growing climate disruptions.

  • This story was produced by Zimbabwe Independent. It was written as part of the WAN-FRA Women In News Social Impact Reporting Initiative (SIRI). The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.