Seed man leads '000s of farmers into bio-farming

Samuel Nderitu is a small scale farmer with a mission. In just four years, he has managed to convince over 5,000 farmers to move into bio-intensive seed farming and banking, meaning they can regenerate their own seeds and free themselves from buying inputs from seed companies.

“The bio-intensive method is an organic agricultural system which focuses on maximum yields from the minimum area of land, while simultaneously improving the soil. The goal of the method is long term sustainability on a closed system basis. The method has proven to be successful on small scale commercial farms,” said Nderitu, who had worked in a seed company for ten years.

He is nowadays totally opposed to hybridised or genetically improved seeds. “Most of such seeds are what I refer to as 'barren' seeds. Barren because most of them are made with what is called 'gene', to make sure that they cannot be regenerated, hence the farmer has to keep buying seeds for every season,” he said.

The terminator gene is a specific genetic sequence inserted into a seed's DNA- DNA is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms. Once activated by a synthetic chemical catalyst of the manufacturer's choosing, the sequence renders the seed and the crop it produces sterile.

This explains why, for example hybrid maize, planted widely in major food production areas such as Kitale and within the Rift Valley, cannot be regenerated into seed. Farmers using hybridised maize must instead always create a budget for seed, each and every planting season – which guarantees revenues for seed companies that usually dictate the price.

However, Nderitu, with support from his wife Peris Wanjiru, have now formed a community based organisation known as Grow Bio Intensive Agriculture Centre of Kenya, G-BIACK. “Through this organisation we encourage farmers to avoid 'barren' seeds that will always enslave them to seed companies. We teach them on seed banking techniques, and organic methods of food production,” he said.

Nderitu's passion for bio-intensive agriculture dates back to his early upbringing. He recalls childhood memories in Gogar Village of Rongai constituency- 28 kilometres west of Nakuru town. Whenever he was not going to school, he always followed his mother as she went to toil on her little farm, where she grew maize, legumes and common vegetables.

“My mother always taught me the importance of soil and seed protection. She made me understand that sustainable agriculture is the only way that peasant farmers can use to foster development and alleviate poverty,” he recalls.

Immediately after high school, he joined the Manor House Agricultural Centre- a training institution in Kitale, where he graduated with a certificate in Bio-Intensive Agriculture.

“After graduation, I went back home in Rongai, where I practiced small time agriculture for three years before getting a job in a seed company, which I worked for for ten years. It was while I was here and saw first hand the pain of farmers who couldn't duplicate their seeds and who were left at the mercy of these commercially minded seed companies that I decided I needed to look for an alternative for them,” he said.

In 2008, he decided to register G BIACK as a community based organisation. He has since gone on to recreate his own farm as a centre for demonstrating, training and promoting bio-intensive agriculture and community development techniques for sustainability among thousands of small scale farm holders in Central, Eastern, and Nairobi provinces in Kenya.

“I initiated this programme with the aim of eradicating poverty and improving living standards, especially among poor communities,” he said.

The venture has also birthed a model where farmers now engage in active sale of the seeds in the market – in a venture which has increased family incomes by up to 10 per cent.

However, this hasn't gone well with seed companies and agrovet dealers who have joined forces to attack Nderitu's venture.

“It hasn't been easy. They have done all sorts of things to get the farmers to shun my venture, but the farmers now know better. I live by the biblical excerpt that my people perish due to lack of information, and if I can assist them get that information, then its my duty to,” he concludes.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter