THE SOLOMON ISLANDS PLANTING MATERIAL NETWORK
...accomplishment through persistence
Paper presented to the Fiji PAPGREN meeting in Suva, 2004 by Tony Jansen.
The Solomon Islands Planting Material Network (SIPMN) was set up in 1995 during a stakeholder workshop facilitated by two NGO’s (non-government organisations):
- Seed Savers Network (http://www.seedsavers.net.au), an Australian NGO
- Kastom Gaden Project (now Kastom Gaden Association, an independent NGO registered in the Solomon Islands www.terracircle.org.au) of APACE (Appropriate Technology for Community and Environment, an Australian NGO).
The stakeholders included:
- the Solomon Islands Department of Agriculture
- national NGOs with an interest in agriculture
- church organisations
- women’s groups
- farmer organisations
- active farmers.
During the workshop, practical hands-on seed saving methods were shared and learned at the same time and case studies of seed saving networks from around the world explored.
The importance of farmers saving their own seeds for food security, conservation and in relation to global genetic erosion was introduced. The outcome was a network, the SIPMN, through which members exchange their own open-pollinated seed varieties and share information through a newsletter. It was agreed that Kastom Gaden would host the network as it had funds from an aid donor and land on the outskirts of Honiara for this purpose.
Slow and steady growth
The SIPMN has grown slowly and steadily from an initial 30 members to over 750 in all provinces of the country. It presently maintains more than 100 varieties of open-pollinated seeds available to members.
Most of these varieties were donated by members from various islands and have become common through sharing in the network. They are landraces that have mostly been introduced into the Solomons over the last 100 years and represent an important collection of proven varieties for local conditions as well as farmer and market preferences.
- other useful plants.
Other varieties have been introduced through field trials conducted by SIPMN members.
Members pay an annual fee (US$2.50). If they cannot afford this they donate their own seeds in exchange for membership. In return, they receive a newsletter twice a year in which the stories of members are shared as are recipies, seed saving tips and other information of value to rural farmers.
Also included is a list of all the seeds currently available from the network ‘central links’ or ‘seed centres’. Members can take any variety of seed from the seed bank only once. After this they are expected to save their own seeds of that variety and are encouraged to share seeds with other farmers in their local area. In this way, members are encouraged to slowly increase the diversity of plants grown in their home gardens and villages. In practice, the network serves to backstop farmers who lose particular varieties.
Varieties shared by SIPMN members are sometimes lost by individual farmers. The farmers can get them back through the network, ensuring continued availability and the conservation of species.
Seed centres enable regional seed production
‘Seed Centres’ are small seed production gardens (30metres by 30metres would be enough to begin with) where seeds are bulked up increased in quantity - from small quantities supplied by members.
Bulking up requires careful work carried out by trained seed curators who maintain accessions (collections of seed) and produce high quality seeds for the members.
The SIPMN experience is that two full time seed curators (or equivalent) can produce from 500-1000 packets of 10-20 varieties per month.
Using a simple system developed by PMN with Seed Savers Network called the ‘bucket system’ of five large, gasket-sealed buckets, special PVC bags, silica gel, simple sun and wood-fired driers with a manual procedures forms the basis of the ‘seed bank’. This system will produce seeds of 50-100% germination potential (all seed is germination-tested as part of the process) without the need for artificial cooling. Seed can be stored for 6 to18 months before distribution to farmers.
As the SIPMN has grown, it has developed many other acivities:
- developing improved food security - farmers are empowered, through learning, to save seeds and by being involved in a network where information and planting materials are shared
- planning - SIPMN holds farmer conferences every two years where the members develop plans for the following two year period, often including local variations as the network becomes more and more decentralised as it grows
- training at the present time this includes -
- nutrition garden training
- natural pest management
- organic farming
- youth livelihood training
- taro and banana diversity fairs
- training of community development workers.
Farmer study tours and exchanges have proven successful avenues of learning.
Maintaining relations with government
The SIPMN has developed close relations with the Department of Agriculture and Lands (DAL).
SIPMN was written into government policy through the 1998 National Plan of Action for Food Production and Nutrition as a viable means of allowing farmers access to seeds.
SIPMN is represented on the DSAP national steering committee and has worked together with DAL on the SPC (Secretariat for the Pacific Community) TaroGen project to establish farmer-run field gene banks and diversity fairs.
At present, SIPMN continues to be housed under the NGO, Kastom Gaden Association, but it may eventually become its own independent organization.
Many farmer members are developing their own agriculture improvement activities on different islands including:
- marketing efforts
- local seed sharing groups
- plant collections.
Recently, a member in North Malaita established his own seed centre and is producing and selling open pollinated brassica spp seeds as well as supplying seeds to the network members. This was the outcome of training in seed production by SIPMN.
Since its inception in 1996, SIPMN has proved a viable model of providing seeds to farmers and creating sustainability at the level of the farming household through seed saving skills.
The network is a relatively low-cost initiative.
By linking together and empowering farmers, the network is producing unanticipated and positive development gains.