Rachel Wynberg reports on a recent research trip to Malawi to understand the role of community seed banks in improving seed and food security.

Smallholder farmers in Malawi, the backbone of the economy, depend on cultivating a diverse range of local crops and varieties which help farmers to adapt their production to the effects of climate change and to meet nutritional needs. However, seeds of local crops and varieties are often scarce, and in many communities, much of the diversity has been eliminated or is disappearing rapidly. Government seed policies have contributed towards this reduced diversity, neglecting the vital importance of local crops and varieties for food and nutrition security. Agrobiodiversity-based community seed banks can contribute significantly to local seed and food security by serving as valuable hubs for the re-introduction of local crop diversity.

In March 2022, a team from UCT and the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI) in Norway, in partnership with the Development Fund of Norway, visited Malawi to explore how community seed banks (CSBs) can contribute to seed and food security. This formed part of the FNI-led research project DIVERSIFARM, designed to identify agrobiodiversity-based pathways to food security, poverty alleviation and livelihoods through the implementation of farmers’ rights among small-scale farmers in the Global South. In addition to Malawi, case studies are also underway in Ethiopia and Nepal, with a view to deriving wider lessons relevant to other countries. A policy brief has been prepared based on the research, drawing on a rich set of interviews, conversations and focus groups conducted across Northern and Central Malawi, and involving 100 farmers, 48 key informants and a concluding workshop. The brief identifies success factors for CSBs and suggests approaches for an enabling policy environment. A set of recommendations is included for policymakers, legislators, NGOs and donors.

Photos by Rachel Wynberg