Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
When people talk about food security in Zimbabwe and elsewhere across Africa, the dynamic relationship between seed security and food security are rarely explored.
Even at global level, seed security often takes a back seat and yet it’s the cornerstone to the attainment of food security and all the major United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on hunger, poverty, jobs and livelihoods, climate change, environmental conservation and numerous others.
Recently, the Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT) and its partners organised the first virtual regional dialogue under the theme: “Farmers Perspectives: From Seeds to Food,” to discuss and provide critical input to the UN Food Summit in September or October 2021 where global leaders are expected to meet — virtually.
This Food Systems Summit will aim to explore strategies to maximise the co-benefits of a food systems approach across the entire 2030 Agenda and meeting the challenges of climate change.
Zimbabwe agronomist and CTDT director, Andrew Mushita, said seed security was a very vital component of attaining food security.
“We are convening a series of dialogues to provide useful inputs to the UN Food Summit so that our leaders recognise and appreciate seed security as a vital component of achieving food security not only here in Zimbabwe but in Africa and elsewhere across the world,” said the veteran agronomist who was also chosen as the UN Food Champion.
“We hope the results of the dialogues will be useful beyond the summit. We hope the results can also influence our own work and how we work together. As development actors we must consistently remind our world leaders about the importance of indigenous local seed varieties and the importance they play in the realisation of our food security.”
Many smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe and across southern Africa rely on agriculture as their main source of livelihood.
Seed availability remains one of the major problems they face.
Experts at this virtual dialogue on seed and food security say farmers often suffer from a lack of adequate and appropriate seed as well as high levels of food insecurity.
Agricultural experts said there was need to support seed interventions such as community seed production, seed aid and input subsidies to help enhance food security among smallholder farmers in the country.
“While many studies link crop production to food security, there is a serious lack of information on the relationship between seed security and food security,” a crop expert on this virtual meeting said.
“As development actors we should promote the understanding about the linkages between the dimensions of seed security, which include availability, access, and utilisation and those of household-level food security, which include dietary diversity and food consumption.
“Many issues related to human wellness originate with the seed and end up in our food systems with positive and negative implications on health.”
Agricultural experts at this virtual said it is important not only for seed to be available at areas closer to farmers at the right time, but also to be affordable and of good quality. “Seed security is equals to food security,” said Hilton Mbozi, a CTDT agricultural expert. “We need to promote community seed banks and local seed varieties to help our farmers cope with climate change and become food secure.”
Seed availability and good quality seed, the experts at the virtual dialogue said was critical to ensure better crop productivity and improved food access.
Other experts said informal seed sources must be recognised and promoted apart from the formal seed sources to ensure that seed was available on time and in closer proximity to households.
“Informal farmer seed sources are very important for the survival of our own indigenous seed varieties. Community seed banks should be promoted in Zimbabwe as they are a reliable source of cheaper and rare crop varieties which we are fast losing to commercial hybrids,” said a crop and climate expert working for the government.
“We must continue to sensitise our world leaders about the importance of community seed banks and their role in the conservation of indigenous varieties.
“When the UN Food Systems Summit is held later in the year, we must offer our recommendations to ensure they are adopted and made part of our national food systems strategies.”
Even though other critics say that seed security does not necessarily equate to food security, nor does seed insecurity necessarily lead to food insecurity — they say it remains critical to recognise and appreciate the delicate relationship that exists between the two.
Despite this, agricultural experts on this virtual dialogue unanimously agreed that seed availability was an important vehicle for the attainment of food security.
They said access to quality seed of high physical purity and germination was one sure way of attaining food security.
Quality seed, they said, led to healthy crops that would ensure better crop yields.
This, they said, should be complemented by sustainable agricultural practices, better rainfall and the availability of irrigation facilities as droughts intensify.
If anything, this virtual dialogue on seed and food systems, demonstrated that access to seed by smallholder had a profound effect on food security and the general wellness of the farmers.