As we celebrate International Women’s Day today under the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality,” we cannot overlook the remarkable prowess of African women in indigenous seed saving and their contribution to food sovereignty.
For generations, African women have played a crucial role in safeguarding biodiversity through the conservation and preservation of indigenous seeds.
Agriculture in Africa has always been the backbone of the continent’s economy, providing food and income for millions of households. However, the emergence of commercial agriculture and globalization has threatened the diversity of crop varieties.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the diversity of crops that were once widely cultivated has drastically reduced in recent years.
The use of high-yielding commercial seeds has contributed to the loss of indigenous varieties, which are better adapted to local climatic, and soil conditions and have higher nutritional content.
According to FAO, women in Africa have been at the forefront of conserving indigenous seeds, which are crucial for food sovereignty, as they provide diverse options for food production and consumption.
Women’s contribution to food sovereignty in Africa
Women in Africa have been at the forefront of conserving indigenous seeds, which are crucial for food sovereignty, as they provide diverse options for food production and consumption. The conservation of these seeds helps to protect biodiversity and resilience, which is crucial for climate change adaptation. Women are the primary custodians of indigenous seeds and play a significant role in preserving them for future generations.
In Uganda, for instance, women have been at the forefront of the preservation of indigenous seed varieties.
According to a study by the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, women farmers in Uganda have been using traditional methods to conserve seeds, such as storing them in underground pits, drying them in the sun, and keeping them in baskets made of natural materials.
These methods have proven to be effective in preserving the genetic diversity of crops and ensuring that farmers have access to a wide range of varieties for food production.
Women in Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia have also been playing a critical role in seed-saving and the preservation of biodiversity, using traditional methods to store and conserve seeds, such as burying them in the soil or storing them in special containers made of natural materials.
Moreover, women have also established seed banks and community seed exchanges, which help to ensure that farmers have access to diverse and locally adapted seeds.
Digital opportunities for supporting women to play their critical role in seed saving
Among the ways to support women in their seed-saving activities is through digital inclusion. According to a study by Oxfamin 2018, digital technologies can improve the livelihoods of women farmers and increase their access to information and markets.
In the context of seed-saving, digital technologies can help women farmers to exchange and access information about indigenous seeds and their conservation. In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of digital technologies in agriculture in Africa.
For instance, mobile phones have been used to connect farmers with markets and to access weather information.
In 2020, Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank said digital platforms such as social media and WhatsApp groups have also been used to share information about agricultural practices and to connect farmers with buyers.
However, the adoption of digital technologies in agriculture has been uneven, with women farmers being left behind.
A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that women in sub-Saharan Africa are less likely than men to have access to mobile phones and the internet.
This digital divide limits women’s ability to access information, connect with other farmers and buyers and participate in seed-saving activities.
There is a need to promote digital inclusion for women in agriculture by providing training on the use of digital technologies and increasing women’s access to mobile phones and the internet.
Governments and other stakeholders should also invest in initiatives that promote the development of digital platforms that are accessible, and affordable to women farmers and that provide information, and resources on seed-saving and biodiversity conservation.
Governments, and non-governmental organizations, besides other stakeholders, should invest in initiatives that recognize and support the critical role that women play in seed-saving and agriculture.
These initiatives should include policies and programmes that promote women’s access to resources such as land, credit, and markets, as well as education and digital knowledge training opportunities that build women’s capacity in seed-saving activities and promote food sovereignty in Africa.
Moreover, African women have played a significant role in indigenous seed saving. This contribution cannot be ignored, and it is essential to ensure that women have access to the resources and support they need to continue their critical work.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we must recognize the importance of traditional knowledge and practices in the conservation of indigenous seeds and the promotion of sustainable agriculture. By doing so, we can help to ensure that farmers have access to diverse and locally adapted seeds for food production.
The author is a Communications and Advocacy Specialist at the African Biodiversity Network, a mentor at the African Women Leaders in Agroecology-Initiative, Chairperson of National and International Engagements at the Inter-Sectoral Forum on Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology (ISFAA) and Treasurer of the Board at the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK).