The key role of seeds in alleviating hunger

Posted On Tuesday, 06 November 2018 09:40

By Sally Akinyi

"Seeds are the soul of agriculture’’. This is a statement not far from the truth; these tiny things are the lifeline of the food we consume every day.

However, with the looming climate change, the future of seeds is under siege. The harsh consequence of this reality has been observed through the continued loss of food diversity. In fact, the world has lost 75 per cent of its food biodiversity in the past 100 years.


Today, in East Africa, local varieties of indigenous foods such as yams, cowpeas and amaranth are not only shrinking, but also rapidly being replaced by unhealthy foods. Smallholders, too, have resorted to cultivating crops that fetch them more income.


The FAO estimates that out of the 821 million people in the world with severe undernourishment, 256 million are in Africa. While indigenous foods have significant potential to alleviate hunger and improve food security and nutrition, their future also grapples with the trend of monopolisation of seeds by global food companies. We must look at the rise of seed multinational firms and their implication on the future. The new shift in the Bayer and Monsanto (now the largest producers of genetically engineered crops) merger signal a boost in agricultural research and innovation. It is expected to spur innovation in the rising demand for food supply globally.


Against this backdrop are worried lots. Smallholder farmers, who are the custodians of diversifying food in Sub-Saharan Africa, stand to lose out in the so-called new modernisation of agriculture.

The importance of seed diversity in this new monopoly is considerably a major discourse on the road to eradicating hunger.

The role of seeds is quite significant in improving food production in regions that have borne the brunt of hunger in recent times.


The new food giant- Bayer and Monsanto- is to seek approval from regulators in 30 countries. The looming reality of this move brings with it continued patenting of plant varieties, making farmers unable to continue to breed varieties, as has been the norm for many years. Smallholder farmers have been known to exchange knowledge on seeds and pass on indigenous seeds from one generation to another. They are key to retaining seed diversity, which is crucial in preserving ancestral seeds that hold immense nutritional value.


As countries like Kenya begin trials on GMO food, it is important that they create a level playing field of all actors in the food system, including smallholder farmers.

New approaches such as Open Source Seeds Systems (OSSS) have the potential to check the dominance of food giants. OSSS is re-defining the role of smallholders in the seed sector by safeguarding their rights.


Secondly, countries need to catalogue their indigenous foods in order to preserve knowledge for future generations. In this way, they can retain their plant biodiversity, which is useful in countering food insecurity.

Ms Akinyi is the regional communications officer, Hivos East Africa. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This piece was published by the Daily Nation on 5th November 2018 and on the Hivos website at