On the eve of the fifth Conference of Parties (COP V) to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) ' the international policy vehicle which works to conserve, manage and develop the world's agricultural biodiversity - small holder farmers from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda will confront delegates from over 170 countries at an East African seed fair.

Around 1.6 billion people around the globe depend on farm-saved seed, yet up to 75% of some key crops have already been lost this century. Farmers know that agricultural biodiversity is under serious threat but by holding a seed fair at the venue for this important conference, the farmers will prove to the policy makers that they have the skill, the knowledge and experience which could reduce world hunger and keep agricultural biodiversity alive and changing.

"The farmers feel they are being ignored. They work hard every day to protect and conserve the world's agricultural biodiversity so they feel they have a right to take part in a process that directly effects their lives. They feel that by holding a seed fair in the UNEP compound (the venue for COP V in Nairobi), they can provide a link between what is happening on an international policy level, and what is really happening on the ground," says Eric Kisiangani, ITDG's Kenyan Food Security Specialist.

For a couple of days a year, after the harvest, small holder farmers come together to display the season's crops and seeds. The Seed Fairs recognise farmers' local crop varieties, and encourage them to conserve and share a wider variety of crops in their fields. It is also an opportunity for farmers to exchange or purchase seeds. "It's a forum for farmers to share existing skills and local knowledge and the farmers feel sure that the international community could learn from them and work with them" said Mr Kisiangani.

"The seed fair is becoming a popular forum for farmers across East Africa" he continued. "Farmers come together and share the many ‘surprises' that every new crop cycle brings…and by finding out what farmers are doing to build strong, self reliant communities, delegates to the CBD - the only international instrument able to protect and promote farmers' livelihoods - should support the farmers' to share this knowledge as widely as possible".

Dickson Kanyaru is a Kenyan farmer from a rural village, Maragwa, in the Tharaka district. Dickson only earns the UK equivalent of around £120 from farming a year, but strongly believes that a seed fair is a good community building block and an excellent way to conserve and share a huge variety of seeds. "Those who have participated in the seed shows yearly have not only acquired new and better crop varieties but have become committed to the process of community capacity building that the seed event seems to entail" he says. "But the seed fair is not an event in itself. It can help us people of Maragwa learn to consult together better and generally increase our capacity for collective action".

Will the COP plant seeds of hope for other farmers like Dickson?

You are invited to meet and talk to the farmers at the opening of the seed fair on Monday 15th May 2000 at 1.00pm. The venue is the UNEP lobby, Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya. For more information or to secure your entrance to the venue, contact Lucja Wisniewska or Betty Rabar on tel: 0254 2 715251, fax: 0254 2 710083 or email

Alternatively, please call Ian Capewell on tel: 01788 661210, fax: 01788 661101 or email

More news from COP V

  Farmers' Voices, Farmers' Rights
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