Brief report of the Limpopo Dialogue on Farmer-Managed Seed Systems and Agroecology

By December JG Ndhlovu (ndhlovuj@ymail.com)

The Limpopo Dialogue on Farmer-Managed Seed Systems and Agroecology workshop happened in Wits Rural Campus in Hoedspruit. The workshop started on the afternoon of the 20th and ended on the afternoon of the 22nd January 2020 and was organized by African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) in collaboration with the Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD). The workshop was attended by 60 people mostly from the Limpopo Province (Sekhukhune, Polokwane, Giyani, and Venda) and few from Mpumalanga Province (Bushbuckridge). The participants were small scale farmers, emerging farmers, home gardeners, school feeding scheme and people from government. The government was represented by the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Limpopo Province and from National office.

The purpose of the workshop was to:

  • Render a platform for a multi-stakeholder engagement on the farmer-managed seed systems and agroecology.
  • Provide space for small scale farmers and emerging farmers to share experiences relating to farming
  • To identify and agree on possible ways of collaborations between the stakeholders.

The opening address of the dialogue was done by one of my favourite, world renowned indigenous knowledge revivalist and environmental justice campaigner, Ms Mphatheleni Makaulule, a founding member of Dzomo la Mupo organization which is based in Venda, Limpopo Province. In her opening remarks she spoke about the essence and sacredness of seeds to the Venda culture. She emphasized the importance of using and preserving indigenous seeds for future generations.

 

With my role model Ms Mphatheleni Makaulule at the Limpopo Dialogue on Farmer-managed Seed Systems and Agroecology in Wits Rural Campus in Hoedspruit.

“Apart from the food we get from seeds, we also use seeds to perform specific rituals to connect with our ancestors,” said Mphatheleni when she narrated the story of the importance of seeds with regards to the Venda culture.  Actually I think this is true to most tribes and races in some parts of this massive global community.

Planting a seed

Immediately after the wonderful opening by Ms Mphatheleni Makaulule about the essence of seeds, Ms Linzi Lewis from ACB led a seed planting moment when she asked for one seed from the participants and planted that it in a container, she then asked somebody to come and water it so that it can germinate. She further asked people to volunteer watering the seed for next coming two days. I don’t remember if the seed would be donated to Wits Rural Campus or it was to be given to one of the participants for further care. This was basically the best start to a seed dialogue workshop.

Field trip

On the second day we went on a field visit to nursery farms of Rooiboklaagte B Permaculture GardenA Spring of Hope and Hlokomela. A Spring of Hope is based in Acornhoek and is helping community members and schools to develop home gardens and they teach and train community people about Permaculture farming instead of Agriculture. Hlokomela is based in Hoedspruit and farms mainly with herbs. They supply local shops with their products.

Agroecology and Permaculture

It was seriously emphasized by different stakeholders that it was very important to practice agroecology and permaculture methods of farming because they are environmental friendly and yield healthy and nutritious foods. Agroecology and permaculture are natural farming methods that have been successfully used for thousands of years by our ancestors without depleting the nutrients of the soils. 

Indigenous, organic, hybrid and genetically modified seeds

This was probably one of the most interesting discussions of this dialogue. It emerged during this discussion that very few people understand the difference between indigenous, hybrid and organic seeds. Surprisingly it was revealed that there is nothing like organic seed, because one can’t differentiate between organic or hybrid seeds, they all look the same. The difference therefore could be the way the seeds are treated throughout the growing stages, that is to say that if one practices organic farming methods, the product will be organic. On the other hand, indigenous seeds are the seeds of vegetables, fruits and herbs that grow naturally in a region. Genetically modified seeds are scientifically and chemically manipulated seeds. Of all the groups and people that attended this dialogue, only people from Venda (Dzomo La Mupo) knew exactly the differences between indigenous, hybrid and GMO seeds. Dzomo La Mupo were the only participants that were consistently practising natural organic farming methods. They strongly emphasized the essence of allowing natural rain water into the garden instead of putting “shade nets” to cover gardens.

Government Agricultural support schemes

It emerged during this dialogue that the government is only supporting emerging and small scale farmers with mostly genetically modified seeds which are chemically coated and highly poisonous to the soil texture and nutrients. Unbelievably it was said that farmers were not allowed to replant the harvested seeds. I’m not sure as to what were the grounds to restrict replanting the same seeds instead they have to go buy chemically coated seeds that are supplied by Monsanto and other big corporations.

Government supplied seeds: Note the colour coated seeds are genetically modified

The genetically modified organisms (GMO) seeds, which are mostly maize, wheat, soy and tomatoes, are believed to be bad for the soil because they strip off nutrients from the soil and they need chemical pest control as well as chemical fertilizers for them to perform optimally.

 

These are “organic” local indigenous seeds

Local seeds that are usually referred as “organic seeds” are these seeds that are grown locally by using natural farming methods like Agroecology and Permaculture. Therefore organic seeds in this regards relate to the locally grown seeds using agroecology or permaculture principles.

Natural and unnatural

This was by far the most interesting discussion that I enjoyed because people kept on referring to certain types of maize seeds as “indigenous” until Stephen from the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) corrected the fact that maize was not indigenous to Africa. What a shock it was for almost everyone …… yes Stephen was spot on, maize is not natural, meaning that it was not made by the Creator but a hybrid, which is a products of man’s manipulation of nature. In other words it means that natural food is “raw, unmixed, unadulterated, and unprocessed”. Therefore natural foods are thought to be free from undesirable contamination from agrochemicals (artificial fertilisers, insecticides, pesticides, and the like). Whereas on the other hand it has been argued that the application of agricultural techniques is unnatural. I think it is important as farmers to have clear understanding of what is natural from those that are unnatural. Ellen White, who had a profound understanding of the origin and transmission of pathological problems, once said  “It is the duty of every human being, for his own sake and for the sake of humanity, to inform himself or herself in regard to the laws of organic life, and conscientiously to obey them. It is the duty of every person to become intelligent in regard to disease and its causes.”— Ellen .G. White: Letter, December 4, 1896.

 

Now in conclusion one can say that this network of Farmer-managed Seed Systems is very critical because it is evident that the closer food producers return to primitive sources and methods the more “natural” and so the healthier their products will be. I think this network needs to get capacity building training about “natural and unnatural’ so that they can understand the difference between agroecology and agriculture,

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