Extreme weather conditions driven by climate change are having a negative impact on crop production.

This has enabled agriculture experts to realise that traditional seed varieties are more resilient to harsh weather conditions as well as in safeguarding food security.

Traditional or indigenous seeds are those growing naturally in a particular climate or region and managed by local people.

Such seeds are a vital foundation for food security.

They are the basis for a sustainable and healthy agriculture.

It is therefore, a collective responsibility for farmers, breeders and other agricultural stakeholders to care for the seeds in order to feed and nourish the present and future generations.

It is against this background that Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) working with Crop Trust under the auspices of the KfW Development Bank of Germany is implementing the Seeds for Resilience project (S4R) aimed at teaching farmers to embrace and revive the growing of traditional crops.

Other countries in this project are Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

ZARI Deputy Director in charge of Research Services, Dickson Ng’uni, explained that there is need for farmers to revive the growing of indigenous seeds due to their nutritional benefits and easy adaptability to local climatic conditions.

Dr. Ng’nui said the introduction of improved varieties has led to the abandonment of traditional crops such as pearl millet, cowpeas, maize and sorghum, which are better adapted and suitable to the local climate.

“Local seeds varieties seem to have lost their popularity since farmers stopped planting them. As a result, many local seeds have been lost among the farming community. Food production has also evolved drastically over the years leading to other important and nutritional beneficial crops being abandoned and considered less important,” he narrated.

ZARI’s National Plant Genetic Resources Centre (NPGRC), Principal Agricultural Research Officer, Graybill Munkombwe, explains that the initiative is being piloted in Kazungula, Chirundu, Rufunsa and Lundazi districts which have badly affected by change in climate.

Mr. Munkombwe stated these areas were selected due to extreme weather conditions experienced year in year out thereby impacting negatively on crop production.

“As a national plant repository, we have over 6000 seed collections representing about 40 different local crop varieties which have being collected in different parts of the country. And with the effects of climate change, there is need for farmers to plant a variety of crops including the abandoned local or traditional seed varieties that adapt favourably to our local environment,” he explained.

Mr. Munkombwe further added that the mandate of NPGRC is not only to preserve the country’s local varieties and diversity but also to share for food and agriculture among the farming community and for use in crop variety development and improvement.

“The use of these genetic materials has been low among small holder farmers and other agricultural stakeholders because they know little or nothing about the existence and functions of the NPGRC, hence our other objective for this project is to increase the level of awareness,” he disclosed.

Through the Seeds for Resilience Project, NPGRC has partnered with farmers through the establishment of germplasm user – groups to grow the local seeds and share within their communities. The selection of local seeds was based on farmer preferences and the varieties chosen were traditionally grown by the farmers in these areas.

Among the crops being promoted are cowpeas, pearl millet, sorghum, sunflower and local maize commonly known as Gankata.

It is undoubtedly true that small scale farmers also rely on a diversity of crops and varieties to break even especially with the advent of climate change.

Annie Chipenzi is a small scale farmer of Lusitu Bridge Agricultural Camp in Chirundu District who has had the opportunity to be incorporated in the cultivation of local seeds and greatly embraced the initiative.

Ms. Chipenzi narrated that through the training from the Ministry of Agriculture staff and setting up of demonstration plots, she was made aware of the indigenous crop varieties which were grown by her great grandparents but forgotten by the current generation.

“Through the trainings, we have learnt about some of the traditional crops which were cultivated by our great grandparents and performed equal well considering that our area experiences extreme weather patterns like receiving little rainfall,” she added.

She called on the youthful farmers to go back to their roots and embrace the long forgotten traditional crops that are not only nutritious but promising amidst the challenges of climate change adding that this will improve the functioning of community seed banks.

Charles Munyinda is another farmer from Kazungula’s Siakasipe Agricultural Camp who laments that farmers thought they were doing themselves a favour in cultivating improved varieties.

“Traditional or local crops if properly managed following all agronomic practices just like the improved varieties are able to us high yields. The problem that we have as farmers is that we pay much attention to managing improved varieties as opposed to local varieties but expect the same yield,” condemned Mr. Munyinda.

Many farmers particularly in rural areas still maintain seed diversity on their farms, where seeds may have been selected and conserved through generations, depending on individual farmers’ skills and culture.

Marthias Banda Simutibule, is a lead farmer in Kazungula’s Siamulunga Agricultural Camp leading a group of farmers in nurturing the field planted with the seeds from the genebank.

Mr. Banda noted that he is passionate about the programme of restoring the lost local seeds in the community adding that most of the farmers had abandoned the crop due to lack of seeds after the 1995 hunger period which had hit the region leading to farmers consuming even the little seed they had stored foe the next season.

 Traditional seed varieties are essential to sustainable agriculture.

They are suitable for local climatic condition and crop cycle.

Apart from ensuring food security, the farmers feel that food made from traditional local crops tastes better and the chances of being destroyed by pests after harvest are low.