In mid-May 2018 a group of Seed and Knowledge Initiative (SKI) partners from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia met up in the north of Pretoria for a combined evaluation and strategic planning meeting. The evaluation was led by Pauline Wilson, and culminated in a set of entertaining performances from each country group – illustrating the changes which the first four-year phase of SKI had brought to their programmes. The strategic planning meeting was facilitated by Davine Thaw, and she left with a number of strongly formulated ideas which the group wished to pursue in the next four or five year phase.

The group reflected on the first planning meeting, held in Cape Town in 2014, which was attended by the founding partners of SKI: UCT, Biowatch, and the Mupo Foundation (now Earthlore), as well as John Nzira from Ukuvuna. It was rewarding to see just how much SKI had achieved during the first phase. In terms of farmer development multiple training sessions had been held, building capacity on agroecology and seed multiplication, and through seed festivals and farmer exchanges, farmers were able to share their knowledge and seed. SKI-related research had grown exponentially, with UCT rapidly developing into an innovative and critical ‘hub’; new postgraduate students had joined this hub, whilst others had completed their studies and were beginning to publish their work. Research was also taking off in Zimbabwe with the formation of a Research Forum, and at Biowatch, the growth of the team meant that more ‘in-house’ research was increasingly underway. The SKI network was growing steadily, evidenced by the expansion of the number of SKI partners from three to thirteen.

On Wednesday, 16 May, the participants were exposed to a variety of inter-related views on the ‘bigger picture’, a discussion of the threats and opportunities which face SKI’s work. This took the form of a panel consisting of David Fig (Biowatch), Stephen Greenberg (African Centre for Biodiversity), Ruchi Triphathi (ActionAid), and Method Gundidza (Earthlore). David spoke of ‘precarity’ or the precariousness of small-scale farmers’ livelihoods, but he also had good news to share as he foresaw that small-scale farmers would continue to feed most people in the future, just as they do now. Stephen spoke of a very unstable global environment, with increased military spending and states which were not responsive to their citizens. These developments would ultimately elevate the need to enhance food sovereignty around the globe.

Ruchi said that at ActionAid their focus had shifted from addressing poverty alone, to including social justice as an equally important thread of their work. She mentioned a number of practical steps SKI could take to increase its reach, and said that agroecology needed to be scaled up as well as across. Method recited the speech he had recently given at the United Nations’ annual ‘Harmony with Nature Dialogue’ in celebration of Earth Day. Talking about earth jurisprudence, he reminded us that nature has its own laws and sense of order.

All in all the week posed a wonderful opportunity to reflect and plan, as well as spend time and catch up with SKI partners from South Africa and beyond, many of whom by now are also friends.