Third seed bank in SA opens near Brits

South Africa’s third seed bank was handed over to the Jericho community near Brits last week.

This initiative to conserve indigenous seed is driven by the North West Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“The Jericho local community is on a dedicated assignment to collect and conserve seeds that they get from the local community. A seed bank structure has been constructed where a variety of crop seeds will be stored,” says the department’s spokesperson, Emelda Setlhako.

The other two established seed bank sites are in Gumbu in Limpopo and Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape.

“South Africa’s smallholder seed systems are increasingly coming under pressure. Factors such as drought, crop failure, difficult storage conditions and poverty are having a negative impact om both the amount of seed and the number of plant varieties available to farmers. Farmers are increasingly purchasing more seed of modern varieties and losing locally adapted varieties along with the associated traditional knowledge,” the department says.

To turn this tide, the agriculture department has implemented community seed banks as a means to strengthen informal seed systems, support conservation of traditional farmer varieties and maintain seed security.

In 2013 the National Plant Genetic Resources Centre (NPGRC) joined forces with Bioversity International to develop a national plan for the establishment and support of community seed banks.

Many farmers save their own seed individually, however, the impact on seed security and seed diversity would not be of significance unless there is seed exchange. Community seed banks are local groups who gather together to conserve and maintain locally adapted seeds. The practice assists in preventing the ultimate disappearance of seeds within the community. This allows members of the particular community easy access to seeds and the ability to control and manage crop populations.

Technical support provided by government will allow members to improve seed conservation technologies, increase access to diversity, apply crop improvement practices and explore seeds production and marketing opportunities.” Bioversity has already trained Jericho community members and will be available for technical advice whenever needed.