Though weather patterns have changed tremendously, planting seasons in Uganda are known to begin in March and August of every year respectively, depending on weather patterns. Towards that time, farmers are busy preparing gardens and seeds for planting.
Women are mainly at the center of seed selection for planting and preservation due to their primary responsibility of household food security. Traditionally, women were crucial to seed conservation efforts to keep their families endowed with food throughout the cycle.
Mrs. Plaxeda Byabataguzi, a resident of Kabaale parish in Buseruka Sub County in Hoima district was used to growing indigenous varieties of cassava, millet, simsim, beans, sweat potatoes and yams. She was used to the practice of saving and exchanging seeds with neighbors for planting.
Using her indigenous knowledge, she would know which seeds are suitable for the changing climatic conditions, nutritious and high-yielding; and which methods are best applied to protect the crops from weeds and how to control pests and diseases after harvesting. With this knowledge that was shared from generations to generations, the indigenous varieties played a very important role in securing households against food insecurity.
“I used to grow different varieties of cassava like Nozima, Bukarasa and beans like Ndabiryanooha, kaitabahuuru among others. With these, I would know I am food secure! They were high-yielding, pest resistant and resistant to climatic conditions,” said Byabataguzi.
She said they would mix seeds with ash or use banana juice to protect them from pests and diseases.For protecting against banana wilt,another elderly woman,Fambe, laughs and says ; “This disease I hear people crying about that it has finished off their banana plantations; it was there in few areas and we would just use human urine which would be left in a container for 3 days and then mix ash and paper then apply it on a banana cluster and that would be all with the wilt.May be this one now may be stronger because it comes with bananas from government”
People had different means of conserving seeds and also use traditional granaries in conserving the seeds for the next planting season and to ensure food security.
Using the indigenous knowledge to solve food shortage had been the powerful means of sustaining household food security in rural areas; a role that was mainly played by women.
However, with the introduction of high yielding varieties and use of chemicals, farmers have moved away from the practice of saving and exchanging seeds with neighbors and families to buying seeds from the market. Because of this, the diversity of indigenous seeds has been eroded and the farmers’ indigenous knowledge systems related to farming and seed saving has slowly been lost.
During a community dialogue for small holder farmers held in Kabale parish in Buseruka Sub County in Hoima district that was organized by the National Association of Professional Environmentalists(NAPE), the farmers identified many indigenous seed varieties of cassava, matooke, yams, millet, sweat potatoes, simsim, beans among others that are slowly facing distinction.
Women who are known to be the custodians of seeds said the indigenous knowledge and cultural beliefs that were followed during planting, harvesting and storing have lost meaning and have been abandoned; a reason they attribute to disappearance of some indigenous seeds.
“At every start of planting, couples were not supposed to sleep on the bed or have sexual intercourse as this would lead to poor yields and after sowing, the remaining seeds would not be cooked until what were sowed germinated because we believed they would not germinate. But all these practices have been neglected so why can’t the seeds disappear?” wondered .Asha Fambe.
Irumba Asuman, the chairperson of the Coalition of Custodians of Sacred natural sites says the indigenous seeds were intertwined in Bunyoro’s cultural heritage. They were used when performing rituals, ceremonies and festivals thus protecting their sovereignty. “Whenever a girl child would be born, they would plant a banana tree; a sign of promoting food security which was mainly the role of women. For boys, they would plant Omutoma tree a sign of conserving the environment,” says Irumba.
Irumba also notes that seeds such as millet, simsim, beans and others were used for ritual performances and offertories to gods and this compelled people especially women to save the seeds.
“Towards planting, the custodians of sacred natural sites would collect seeds at every household. They would go and pray for better yield which is not the case now. The custodians would also offer seeds like millet to gods whenever they would be asking for blessings or rain,” intimates Irumba.
Through working in groups and holding community dialogue, the communities in Hoima and Buliisa have started tracing and sharing seeds that are facing extinctinction and planting for multiplication with the help of elders mostly women who are the custodians of seeds in communities.
Dennis Tabaro Natukunda, the project Officer in charge of Community Ecological Governance, says NAPE in partnership with the Gaia foundation, with help from the European Union and Open Society Institute for Eastern Africa (OSIEA) is working with small holder farmers to revive the indigenous crop varieties and also the indigenous knowledge that has been neglected in ensuring food security and enhancing the resilience of communities in fighting climate change.
BY PRECIOUS NATURINDA