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Community Seed Fairs in Zimbabwe

The following example from Zimbabwe demonstrates how benefit sharing can be promoted through organizing community seed fairs. Once again it is an NGO that is the initiator of the project, and which through the cooperation with and empowerment of farmers has succeeded in advancing several non-monetary forms of benefit sharing, among them access to propagation material and related information, conservation of genetic diversity and strengthening of community seed systems.

Community seed systems are important in relation to on-farm crop diversity and for ensuring the local seed requirements of farmers. In developing countries, these local seed systems are traditionally strengthened by seed exchanges among farmers and communities, involving the exchange not only of planting material but also of the knowledge associated with it. This ensures that crop diversity is maintained and increased in farmers' fields. However, in recent years, local seed systems have in many places been put at risk by economic, environmental and socio-political factors that have endangered the food and seed self-sufficiency essential to the regeneration of local agro-ecosystems. In Zimbabwe for instance, farming communities in many areas are threatened by drought, increased commercialization and private-sector intervention in seed production, all of which result in narrowing down the genetic diversity in communities. In seeking to address this situation, the Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT) has used community seed fairs as an approach to facilitate access to and use of diverse and locally produced seeds to promote local seed security.

Seed Fair in Zimbabwe. Photo: Development FundThe seed fairs are organized and managed by farmers. The local extension service may offer support and facilitating organizations guarantee the prizes for the competitions, but it is the farmers that draft the programme of activities, and are responsible for the logistics and the venue. Seed fairs are usually set up by first identifying a farmers' organization which is willing to lead the planning and conduct the seed fair. Farmers then exhibit all their crop varieties on individual stands. The decision of whom to invite as guests is made by the farmers themselves. Judges might be sought from any relevant institution, such as the district agriculture office or an NGO, but the farmers define their own judgement criteria. The fair is held for a day, and both crops and livestock can be displayed. The products can be displayed in any way desired: sorghum, for example, might be displayed as grain, seed or product.

Community seed fairs provide farmers with the opportunity to exchange knowledge and experiences on the old as well as the new crops they grow and to generate information about local-level seed-production capacities. They also enable the trading, exchange and sharing of propagation material among farmers and the creation of market linkages. Because of the seed fairs, it is possible to evaluate the level of diversity within the area and to assess and monitor the genetic erosion as well as seed availability before the next cropping season. In addition, healthy and productive competition helps to instil confidence among the farmers. Finally, the seed fairs allow farmers' organizations to showcase their capabilities and build social interaction.

CTDT has so far concentrated its work in areas of communal land where subsistence agriculture is practised in the districts of Tsholotsho and Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe. The aim of the seed fairs has been to promote crop and varietal diversity and seed security in these districts. The community seed fairs are arranged annually and are attended by more than 2000 farmers each year. They have been welcomed by the Minister of Agriculture in Zimbabwe, especially for their ability to make available seeds not found in the formal market. Every year increased diversity can be observed at the seed fairs. This steadily increasing diversity provides farmers with new strands to be included in their participatory plant breeding and participatory variety selection. A central aspect of this is the sharing of information regarding varietal characteristics that takes place, enabling more informed decisions in the breeding work.

Community seed fairs can be viewed as a step on the way to achieving sustainable utilization of agro-biodiversity by creating incentives from the ground. The main achievement of the seed fairs is increased crop genetic diversity at the community level and greater capacity among farmers to judge and select plants and thus to make informed decisions in breeding. This example from Zimbabwe shows that it is possible for an NGO to succeed with benefit sharing of this kind by initiating something as 'simple' as seed fairs, working closely together with the farmers themselves and delegating much of the responsibility to them.

(This text is based on information from an article by the Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT), Zimbabwe, presented in CBDC, 2006: 40-43)

Pages in this sub-section:
   Creating incentive structures from the ground in the Philippines
   Community seed fairs in Zimbabwe
   Community gene banking and on-farm conservation in India
   Dynamic Conservation and Participatory Plant Breeding in France
   Participatory plant breeding adding value in Nepal
   Capacity-building for seed potato selection in Kenya
   The Peruvian Potato Park
   Rewarding best practices in Norway
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 In this section:
  What is a 'success story' of FR?
  Success stories from the realization of the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed
  Success stories on traditional knowledge related to agro-biodiversity
  Success stories on benefit-sharing measures
  Success stories on participation in decision making
  Common features

Photo: Pratap Shrestha, Nepal