Farmers' Seed Systems

Farmers continue to provide the large majority of seeds

Some 80 to 90 % of the world's seed stocks are provided through an "informal" system, according to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). Such systems are locally organised and based on the ways farmers produce, disseminate and procure seeds through on-farm saving and exchange with other farmers. It is integrated in the local food system, where a large number of farmer-selected species and varieties are being developed, are known and used in fields, gardens and households. Denying farmers the right to sell seed would result in a substantial loss of rural income. Agricultural policies and legal framework should take this reality as a starting point and craft regulations that strengthen and improve the informal system. In most developing countries, the formal system is not capable of producing sufficient amount of seeds that are suitable to different growing conditions and to provide these seeds at the right time of sowing.

Local seed supplies are crucial

Seeds are related to food, culture, religion and local traditions. Taking care of quality seeds has always been a core task for farmers and farmers are constantly on the outlook for seeds that will give them the best harvest. Many farmers particularly in developing countries still maintain seed diversity on their farms, where seeds have been selected and conserved through generations, depending on individual farmers' skills. 

In a number of countries, community seed banks support farmers' seed saving and exchanging. Community seed banks are collections of seeds that are maintained and administered by the communities themselves. Seeds can be stored by a community either in large quantity to ensure that planting material is available, or in small samples to ensure that genetic material is available should varieties become endangered.

Seed Fairs play a key role in the creation, maintenance and promotion of crop genetic diversity. As CTDT in Zimbabwe puts it, they help to "keep alive a technology - based on collective ownership and communal knowledge - which is appropriate and sustainable to poor and marginal farmers, unlike some of the expensive, patented and commercially driven seed and biotech products".

Further reading:

Development Fund (2011): Banking for the Future: Savings, Security and Seeds

CTDT News Volume 3, Issue 3 September - December 2010: Theme: Seed Fairs & Crop Diversity