Our Seeds: Lessons from the drought


Voices of farmers in Zimbabwe


Zimbabwean smallholder farmers consider seed security to be an issue of national security. For them, access to the right seeds at the right time, and for the right price, is critical to being able to produce enough food to eat in the face of growing climate disruption.

Farmer seed systems provide this seed security:

  • The right seeds: the only way smallholders can access crops which are not prioritized by the private sector, but which are locally adapted, resilient to drought and important for household food and nutrition. These tend to be women’s crops.
  • The right time: locally available farmer seed means that farmers can access what they need quickly – important in the current context of shortages in the formal seed sector, and if farmers are forced to plant early or replant to react to unpredictable weather.
  • The right price: farmer seed systems provide low-cost seed for smallholder farmers who cannot afford to make recurrent purchases of hybrid maize seed every year, plus the even more expensive package of chemical inputs required to unlock their yield potential. They are an important safety net for vulnerable communities during the worsening economic situation, and are a lifeline for smallholder farmers with limited resources.

Community seed banks are a way to strengthen farmer seed systems. As seen in one district during the recent devastating drought, a strong farmer seed system was the difference between smallholder farmers harvesting something or nothing at all. This report conveys the voices of farmers who depend on the seed bank and the related farmer field school programmes they operate and manage together with Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT).

Beyond helping communities to weather shocks in the short term, farmer seed systems are a broader public good: they provide reservoirs of plant genetic resources that are needed in the longer term to adapt agriculture to climate change, pests and diseases. Adapting the agricultural sector to climate change is a major priority for the Zimbabwean government as set out in their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, The upcoming National Adaptation Plan will set out needs, costs and actions. Investing in seed systems which respond to the changing needs of smallholder farmers is exactly the kind of thing that will help meet the country’s climate change adaptation goals. It is also a step towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030. However, it is an opportunity that is currently being missed. Government policy is overly focused on protecting and supporting formal seed systems and seed companies. More can be done to balance this policy framework with farmers’ rights to save, exchange, multiply and sell farm-saved seed.