Otieno, G., Sikinyi, E., Vernooy, R., Fadda, C., & Halewood, M. (2023). How policies influence smallholder farmers´ access to and use of genetic resources in three East African countries. (PDF, 1MB)

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Executive Summary

Crop genetic resources and diversity for food and agriculture are the biological cornerstones of global food and nutrition security. They are critical in maintaining current food production and in addressing future challenges. Improving the productivity of major food crops in the face of climate change will depend on harnessing genetic diversity and genetic traits from a wide range of origins, including wild species.

Climate change negatively affects farmers’ production systems and leads to loss of genetic diversity. Successful climate-change adaptation requires farmers to sustainably use a broader range of crops and varieties to thrive during unpredictable climate events and resultant pest outbreaks. Accessing a wider range of genetic diversity from different sources is also important, especially for developing new traits for climate-change adaptation. Genebanks are one of the main sources of this diversity. Accessing genetic resources from these genebanks is usually through the Multilateral System (MLS) of Access and Benefit Sharing of the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). Through this system, genetic resources are accessed for research and breeding purposes using the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA).

Through several research projects in Eastern Africa, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT has carried out participatory research with farmers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda using durum wheat, sorghum, finger millet and beans provided by the national genebanks. Farmers and breeders selected the best performing varieties with important traits for climate-change adaptation. Some of these varieties are potential candidates for breeding programs, while others were so good that farmers prefer to use them directly. However, the SMTA does not provide for the direct use and commercialization of materials exchanged through the MLS. Similarly, most regional and national access and benefit-sharing (ABS) mechanisms, seed policies and regulations also have provisions that hinder farmers from producing and distributing such varieties commercially.

This report addresses key policy issues around the access and use of genetic resources and their up-scaling for direct use and commercialization. It analyzes the current policy environment in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and identifies key policy related gaps and challenges related to the utilization of genetic resources, and further proposes a strategy/roadmap for policy and institutional reformsto address these gaps and challenges.

For the three countries the study reveals three key policy and regulatory issues that limit genetic resource diversity use among smallholder farmers: i) a differential implementation of Treaty SMTAs and related ABS policy in each country; ii) seed regulations that limit commercialization and sustainable use of genetic resources; and iii) a lack of seed policy harmonization in the region.

Based on the study findings the authors offer four broad recommendations for seed sector policy and regulatory reforms to enhance famers’ access to seeds: i) resolve and review ABS legislation in line with Treaty and Nagoya requirements and in a mutually supportive manner; ii) register farmer varieties to support broader crops and varieties diversity available in the market, at the same time asserting farmers’ rights to save, use and exchange seeds of their choice in accordance with article 9 of the Treaty; iii) Support the production of farmer varieties through alternative quality assurance schemes, and iv) Promote the recognition of community seedbanks and seed-producer associations as critical and innovative institutional avenues for enhancing seed-system access to seeds.