National Reference Group (NRG) recommends that Agriculture policymakers should ensure sustainable access to quality seed for small holder farmers, a progress through which endogenous seeds should be part of. The NRG is made of different stakeholders in agriculture value chain including farmers, agribusiness companies, researchers, members of parliament, journalists, civil society organizations among others.
According to Francois Munyentwari, Country Director of the Agency for Cooperation, Research and Development (ACORD) that organizes NRG dialogues, seeds became commercial product, and the market is currently under private companies’ control, to which farmers are not entitled. " Our traditional seeds are a national heritage and must not disappear. […] These traditional seeds correspond to the regions and are resistant to diseases. Our wish is that there will be a system that will make them available and in good quality, thanks to the involvement of farmers, "he said.
Group photo of participants, National Dialogue on Promoting Farmers based Seeds System in Rwanda
“Today Peasant seeds are left to extinction mostly by the threat of industrial seeds, and are losing interest despite their potentials for exchangeability, sustainability, quality and nutritious and tasty food, medicinal and cultural values, resilience to climate change and fitting in the local agroecological environment,” a statement in alert note released by ACORD reads.
Daniel Rwebigo, representative of Rwanda Agriculture Board in the meeting, said that this year, Rwanda stopped importing seeds as it used to be, and 19 of seed multipliers are local and farmers based. However, Hon. Gabriel Semasaka, Member of Parliament, mentioned three foreign main seed companies in Rwanda. “In case the companies stop their operations, the country will shift back as the same situation as the last five years. We therefore need farmers to get involved in the chain”.
“Farmers and their associations should be empowered for effective influence and participation in decision-making in relation to peasant seeds recognition, productivity, certification, management and control. This should no longer remain the exclusivity of private foreign companies in search of profit,” said Munyentwari.
Even though the Director of ACORD acknowledges that cooperatives are involved in seed multiplication, their role is very limited. “These cooperatives exist and work with the multipliers. In other words, these cooperatives are the workforce for investors. Currently, farmers donate their land, their arms, and work for money. This is different from farmers who work in their fields for themselves, who cultivate what they are going to harvest, and save seeds that they will use during the next farming season. Those who now manage these seeds are profit oriented,” Mr. Munyetwari noted.
The 10th session of the group held in Kigali on 30th November 2021, that aimed at supporting the need for the transition to sustainable farmers based seeds system that respond to the felt needs of ordinary farmers and articulating pathways to a system managed by farmers, integrating endogenous seeds, discussed the current seed system, the need for farmers-based seed system (FBSS), as well as the entry point for building FBSS.
In September 2018, The UN adopted a declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas and in relation to seeds, land, and farming practices on peasant rights.
The Law governing seeds and plant varieties in Rwanda open a wide window to the privatization of seeds with a large scope of the plant breeder’s right and dictate how seeds can be marketed and intellectual property laws, which give monopoly rights to breeders. But the fact is that up to 75% of all seeds used in Rwanda today still come from farmers who save seeds from previous harvest even if this is changing rapidly to a situation where farmers are obliged to buy seeds each planting season. In this regard, the seeds system is a growing industry that need to be monitored to better respond to the needs of farmers who otherwise will depend on a seed industry dominated by corporates whose immediate interests are productivity and profits.