Post-doctoral fellow Brittany Kesselman visited the Biowatch seed and food fair.

In October 2023 I attended the Biowatch farmer seed and food fair, held at the Siyazisiza Trust Zululand Agri Support Centre near Mtunzini in KwaZulu-Natal Province. The fair took place over two days and was attended by farmers from different areas of KwaZulu-Natal who work with Biowatch as well as other farmers from Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape provinces.

The fair began with farmer seed displays. Each group presented their seeds and planting materials, and some groups also displayed products they had made out of their crops, such as dried or fermented vegetables. First there was a round of introductions, in which each farmer group introduced themselves and their specialties. During the introductions, and many other times over the course of the fair, the groups broke into song and dance, which along with the beautiful traditional dress most farmers wore, created a festive atmosphere.

When it was time to exchange and purchase seed, farmers circulated between the tables, examining the many varieties available, sharing their knowledge about the crops, and of course, stocking up on seeds. The immense diversity of crops and varieties available ensured that there was something for everyone. Farmers had a large selection of traditional and indigenous grains, beans and vegetables that are not commonly available from the commercial seed sector—highlighting the value of farmer seed systems in preserving traditional crop diversity.

The seed exchange was a demonstration of farmers’ rights in action, even if the South African government has not yet recognised these rights by signing on to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), although its signature is imminent. Article 9 of the ITPGRFA recognises farmers’ rights to save, use, exchange and sell seed; underscores the need to ensure that they are recognised and rewarded for their role in ensuring plant genetic diversity; and insists that farmers play a role in decision-making around plant genetic resources (see and

Over the rest of the two days, the focus was on sharing knowledge. There were many demonstrations of ways to prepare both traditional and new recipes based on the traditional and indigenous crops grown by the farmers. The millet and sorghum demonstrations were especially interesting, as people shared different ways these grains were used in traditional ceremonies, and regional differences in preparation were highlighted. The demonstrations were accompanied by tastings too—the fermented sorghum drinks were really delicious.

To contribute to farmers’ rights to participate in decision-making, Biowatch held a briefing session on the current process of amending the seed laws in South Africa. This session was a chance for farmers to better understand how the revised laws might affect them, and to develop common positions for advocacy based on their needs.

Seed and food fairs or festivals can serve many different purposes. The Biowatch fair was a joyful and celebratory event that demonstrated the vibrancy of farmer seed systems and provided recognition of farmers’ traditional and agroecological knowledge. In this way it contributed to the revival of traditional and indigenous food and farming and the promotion of farmers’ rights.