importance of community based activities in agriculture

South Africa is one of the first countries in the world to support community seedbanks through a national policy. As part of a feasibility study to understand better the role of seedbanks in strengthening informal seed systems, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries invited Bioversity International scientists,Ronnie VernooyandBhuwon Sthapit, to join them in Limpopo and Eastern Cape.

In Limpopo and Eastern Cape in South Africa, farmers live and work under tough conditions. Rainfall is low, and in the mountainous areas in Eastern Cape, the climate is cold and windy as well. Farms are difficult to access and far from major markets, yet farmers still manage to produce food not just for subsistence, but also small amounts to sell. Crop and varietal diversity combined with diverse animal husbandry practices (cattle, sheep, goats) is central to their farming systems and to survival. However, in the last few decades, several crops and varieties have disappeared or their seeds have become hard to get.

Drought, climate change, crop failure and a lack of research support are just some of the factors placing smallholder seed supply systems under pressure —not just here, but all across South Africa as in many other countries. This pressure is resulting in crop genetic diversity loss, and it is reducing the number of seed quantities and plant varieties that are available to farmers.