Seed Sovereignty Project

Full Solution
Women discussing on seed issues
Anne Maina

The Seed Sovereignty project supports communities to revive their lost seed varieties as a way to diversify food production and reduce dependency on few grain crops like maize. With increasing climate change, farmers dependent on maize were facing crop failures while traditionally they diversified to cope with weather changes. 


BIBA Kenya has been working with the Rural Initiatives Development Programme (RIDEP), a community based organization located in Tharaka Nithi County in Kenya. We supported the Kanania Women Group to revive, breed, multiply and share lost traditional seed varieties. 


The project has incorporated a table banking aspect to support the women farmers to save their farm earnings and to give loans to each other for livelihood improvement.


Through traditional and cultural festivals, we have been able to popularise traditional foods that contribute to food security and dietary gains within the community. This has led to improved nutrition and financial well being.

Last update: 25 Sep 2020
Challenges addressed
Erratic rainfall
Increasing temperatures
Loss of Biodiversity
Inefficient management of financial resources
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor governance and participation
Lack of food security
Unemployment / poverty

Traditionally, the work of seed breeding, saving and multiplication was regarded the work of elderly women. We struggled to bring on board young ladies but the table banking aspect won them over as they could easily access affordable loans for businesses and farming activities.


The community initially preferred growing maize as opposed other crops like millet and sorghum that were seen as minor non beneficial foods. It took some time to change attitudes for the community to appreciate the benefits of crop diversification for improved nutrition and climate resilience.


Through the  food and cultural festivals, traditional and cultural norms and values have been passed on to the younger generation contributing to the greater societal well being.


Access to affordable loans and diversified economic activities have increased income leading to higher enrolment in schools and higher learning institutions.


Young, elderly women, youth, children, men and the community. East Africa Breweries Limited has benefitted from cheaper raw materials for brewing (gadam sorghum). The government of Kenya has been able raise tax revenues. 

Scale of implementation
Rangeland / Pasture
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Genetic diversity
Ecosystem services
Food security
Local actors
Traditional knowledge
Nkondi, Tharaka, Eastern Province, Kenya
East and South Africa
Summary of the process

The seed sovereignty project was conceived to support farmers to revive lost traditional seeds that are resilient to climate change. This involved a lot of meeting on community dialogue. To bring and keep the group cohesive, we introduced an aspect table banking that took off. The community was happy too. 

Building Blocks
The revival of local and traditional seeds

The Seed Sovereignty Project has been able to work with women farmers to restore beneficial and traditional seed varieties that had been lost like sorghum, millet, legumes and other grain crops.


Enabling factors

The community faced food insecurity mainly due to climate change related challenges and overdependence on maize. Tharaka Nithi County is generally an arid and dry area where maize does not do well. the farmers were encouraged to focus on climate resilient crops like millet, sorghum and green grams.


The willingness of the community to engage in participatory planning and embrace the proposed strategies to revive local and indigenous crop varieties.

Lesson learned

Diversification of grain and legume varieties increased food security and enhanced their nutrition status.


The seed and traditional food fairs revived and enhanced cultural values and practices with the young people being thus contributing to intergenerational learning.


Collaboration with others like the National Museums of Kenya was important in ensuring the continuity of the  annual Meru Cultural and Food Festival to date. 

Table banking and group with a difference

The table banking aspect of the project was responding to the needs of the community to access affordable loans for businessess and farming activities.


We supported the group in training on financial management and accountability.


The table banking aspects has attracted the younger people who are interested in doing farming as a business. This has helped in improving livelihod food security

Enabling factors

Increased production has enabled the emergence of small businesses with table banking enabling access to affordable loans.


Farmers have also been able to take their children to schools thus increasing knowledge and skills within the community


Lesson learned

Access to cheap and affordable loans to engage in business and farming activities is fundamental in improving community livelihoods.


It is vital to include capacity building in leadership and financial accountability skills to enhance governance on the resources.


Training was also done to increase the repayment period from one month to at least 6-12 months. This is what is referred to as group with a difference where the loans do not become a burden to the community members who have adequate tim to repay and get returns on investments.


The Seed Sovereignty Project works with women farmers to restore beneficial/traditional seed varieties that were lost like sorghum, millet, legumes and other grain crops.


The project has also introduced new and more nutritious varieties with more economic benefits like the gadam sorghum. The sorghum possesses great qualities for beer making with high carbohydrate content (75%) compared to barley (66%) & maize (67%). It is also rich in fermentable sugars with low levels of oil and proteins. The East African Breweries Limited is a major market for gadam sorghum in Kenya. 


With revival and diversification of grain and legume varieties, the community increased their food security and enhanced their nutrition status.


The women also begun table banking to save their farming earnings and were able to access cheap and affordable loans to engage in business and activities from their savings without relying on expensive bank loans. As a result, their economic well-being and leadership skills were enhanced with an improved financial accountability and transparency.


The seed and traditional food fairs were revived and enhanced cultural values and practices with the young people being involved as part of the intergenerational learning. The National Museums of Kenya came on board and is supporting annual Meru Cultural and Food Festival to date.

Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action

Jane Mutiiria is chair of the Kanania Women group from Tharaka Nithi county. When the group came together to work with Rural Initiatives Development Programme (RIDEP) and the Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA-K), the women faced many challenges in their families. Often their maize crop failed due to insufficient rainfall and they were forced to buy expensive food. Without much from their farms, incomes were minimal and their children were often sent away from school due to school fees. 


RIDEP and BIBA-K trained the women on seed breeding and growing climate-resilient crops like millet, sorghum and green grams that cope with the harsh climate in Tharaka Nithi.


In addition, the Kanania women group now started table banking where the women meet weekly and save money which they later borrow from the group to start businesses. Many women have begun keeping chicken which they can easily sell incase of urgent needs that require money.


The annual Meru cultural festival has made the younger women and children aspire to learn folk dances and songs which they present every year at local cultural event.


All the ladies look forward to our weekly meetings to save, chat and discuss development ideas. They work in synergy. We believe in leaving no one behind.


Jane has been able to visit many places in Kenya and outside the country and is inspires her members.