Building on past and on-going joint activities, a synergistic relationship between two NGOs, Biowatch South Africa, and the Earthlore Foundation and the University of Cape Town’s Bio-economy Research Chair has been galvanised into a long-term collaboration on seed and knowledge systems. The primary aim of the Seed and Knowledge Initiative (SKI) is to revive and enhance traditional seed and knowledge systems and to deepen understanding about their functioning, within the context of supportive agricultural, cultural and ecological practices.

The initiative’s vision is to collaborate with communities, researchers, NGOs, policy-makers and other national and regional partners towards a future where small-holder farmers are empowered to secure seed and food sovereignty on all levels. Although largely focused within South Africa at present, SKI plans to expand its work into the southern African region over the next five years. Its focus includes the following inter-related objectives:

  • Enabling farmers and communities to revive and enhance traditional seed and agricultural knowledge systems.
  • Strengthening networks on seed and agro-ecology.
  • Influencing decision-makers to support evidence-based positions that strengthen seed diversity and local control of seed.
  • Promoting socially responsive research on seed and knowledge systems.

The Bio-economy Chair brings research and policy expertise to the collaboration as well as a track record of working on issues relating to traditional knowledge, biodiversity and social justice, with an active hub of postgraduate students and post-doctoral fellows developing around this theme. The initiative also brings together a range of tertiary research institutions from South Africa and the region, with the aim of building a research platform that stimulates critical thinking on these issues, grooming a new generation of researchers, and advocating for research approaches that benefit smallholder farmers and target their needs.

The Seed and Knowledge Initiative is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Southern Africa (SDC), Oxfam, IDEX, the Global Environment Fund of the United Nations, the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, Mama Cash, the Foundation for Human Rights, the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation’s South African Research Chairs Initiative.

Current research projects

Maize Drying - Bulisani

Bulisani Ncube: Linkages between farmers’ seed systems and household food security

Chikukwa Pic for Kudzai410x273

Kudzai Kusena: Smallholder farmer resilience in Zimbabwe

Red maize - Maya 300x199

Maya Marshak: Mapping maize seed systems in South Africa

Completed research projects


Yoliswa Molefe: The role of traditional crops in peri-urban livelihoods, KZN


Kristen Kennedy: Reviving orphan crops in the Eastern Cape


Laura Pereira: Orphan crops and innovation

Supported by: