By Elias Hakizimana
Accessing quality seeds is among smallholder farmers’ hindrances to improving their farm productivity, an issue which has pushed experts and officials from 144 countries from the globe to meet in Kigali and set measures for a good way forward.
The experts passed days in Kigali last week for the seventh Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture from which they came up with decisions including $1o million funding project to support small holder farmers across countries with limited means to access the needed seeds and crops.
Speaking during the event, Kent Nnadozie, acting secretary of International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture this money already in the scoop of the project designed to start operating next year going over the two years of its cycle.
“One of the decisions today is to start the work programme on farmers’ rights, to recognize the contribution of farmers and ensure that they have access to seeds as benefit from development and research results that generate to seeds and crops,” said Nnadozie.
The outcomes of session stressed on enhancing food security to ensure farmers have access to genetic resources.
Nnadozie said that such outcomes are included in the road map of improving the system which countries have agreed up on to have access to seed and crops that they will be planting.
“So, developing countries also have access to funds to support projects and to benefit farmers. Parts of the things we agreed upon was to agree on the road map on further development and improvement of the system that provides seeds to farmers,” he said.
Nnadozie further said that one of the attainments of the conference in Kigali is the launch of fourth cycle of “Benefits Sharing Fund”, which came after the previous ones with similar objectives to provide funds to support the farmers in developing countries.
“It is [intended] to help them to have access to seeds, to adapt seeds for climate change, for environmental stresses,” Nnadozie said.
He moreover said that so far, over $20 million was invested to help smallholder farmers in developing countries all around the world get quality seeds ideal for withstanding the effects of climate change such as drought, under this scheme.
However some people expressed that genetically modified crops may cause adverse health effects, an issue which Nnadozie said is not an issue to judge as it is not under their (Treaty) concern.
“Our main concern is to make sure farmers have access to planting materials and where we can be able to plant and cultivate, whether genetic materials are not good is not something for us to judge, I do not have an official opinion about it, we do anything that helps local farmers to increase the livelihoods and improve productivity,” said Nnadozie.
The meeting focused on proper seeds that farmers can plant; and the strategies availing them information and enabling them to have access to the right planting materials suitable to their conditions.
It also looked at the possibility of expansion of the scope of crop species in the treaty by enhancing the functioning of the multilateral system for access and benefit sharing and safeguarding of farmers’ rights to equitable benefits sharing from the use of plant genetic resources.
According to Dr Patrick Karangwa, the head of Research Division at Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), countries that benefit more from sharing crops contribute efforts to the funding initiative, investing the money to support crop conservation and access to seeds in poor or developing countries.
He said that there are varieties developed by researchers in Rwanda and other varieties resulting from research that was done by other countries, which the government adopts to move fast in finding solutions to diseases affecting crops.
He gave an example of cassava crop that has been affected by a cassava brown streak disease in Rwanda since few years ago.
Paola Frolenceschelli, an Italian interested in food security and food business, who was among participants in the session, said that having access to seeds and crops will help improve livelihoods of everybody not only farmers.
“So, in my opinion, not as a technician, having free access to all types of seeds is fundamental for food security for everybody not only for the farmers because we all depend on agriculture and on crop produced in Africa and mainly by small farmers; and of course, I think farmers should have this opportunity of free real exchanging seeds and experience amongst them,” she said.
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