Variety of seeds preserved on glass bottles at Endorois Women's Community based Organization Seed Bank at Kabasis village near Lake Bogoria in Baringo county. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

In the heart of Kabasis village, next to the tranquil shores of Lake Bogoria, is a simple iron-sheet store that carries profound historical significance. Inside, Salina Chepsat, the chairperson of Endorois Women’s Community Based Organisation stands surrounded by glass bottles packed with seeds, each bearing tales passed through generations, meticulously arranged on wooden shelves.

 “Iyoni” an Endorois song that is associated with harvest festivities, softly plays in the background.

Chepsat and her members are spearheading a unique climate adaptation project- a community seed bank that is safeguarding indigenous seeds as symbols of sustainability and strength.

“These seeds signify our resilience in the face of climate change. These seeds are indigenous and face the danger of extinction, but we have done our best to ensure we preserve them in the best way possible,” Chepsat says.

Her words mirror the spirit of her community. These meticulously preserved seeds offer more than sustenance; they embody hope, weaving a tapestry of wisdom over countless millennia. They stand as silent resistance to the impacts of climate change, whispering a message of hope. Amid a shifting global climate, the Endorois women are emerging as stewards of the land. Climate change has triggered rising temperatures, erratic rainfall, and intense seasons of droughts and floods, in Baringo county and other parts of Kenya.

Seeds of adaptation

In the face of such adversity, these women are sowing seeds of adaptation. At the seed bank, the group preserves millet, sorghum, ground nuts, beans, cowpeas, and a variety of seeds. 

Salina Chepsat, the led farmer at Endorois Women's Community based Organization inspecting some of the seeds preserved at their Seed Bank at Kabasis village near Lake Bogoria in Baringo county on August 9,2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Originally started as a women’ merry-go-round and table banking group in 2012, the organisation has blossomed into a strong 19-member group, that is keen on building resilience against climate change and environment conservation. 

Chepsat explains: “Our group consists of 19 members, including two youths responsible for digital affairs and documentation. For inclusivity and diversity, we have two men and one member living with disability. The rest of the members are women.”

So what inspired the idea to preserve indigenous seeds?

Chepsat says their turning point came in 2021 when a non-governmental organisation sponsored some members for a training on seed preservation and they were impressed by the idea. This experience ignited their interest and passion in seed preservation.

“We decided to translate knowledge into action, embracing organic farming and cultivating traditional food crops resilient to our harsh climate. Millet, sorghum, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cassava, and other indigenous crops became key crops. We constructed a storage facility to preserve seeds, and there’s been no turning back,” Chepsat says.

The majority of seeds are those of indigenous and undervalued high-value crops that hold cultural significance within the Endorois community. 

Presently, the seed bank has more than 150 seed varieties and they are keen on boosting the numbers. 

Seeds preserved in glass bottles. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

On the day of the interview, Smart Harvest finds a group diligently uprooting weeds from sweet potato fields, anticipating an abundant harvest.

Elsewhere, another group applies a concoction of ashes and herbs to a maize plantation to counteract armyworms and pests.

Their two-acre land is flourishing with maize, sorghum, fruit trees, cassava, and vegetables, an emblem of their unwavering commitment to traditional foods.

“Consuming traditional foods has sustained my family’s health. We are no longer worried about eating crops that have been sprayed with chemicals,” Susan Chebon, a member says. 

In Baringo, the harsh effects of climate change are evident: shrinking rivers, droughts, famines, and altered rainfall patterns.

“Previously, we could predict rainfall patterns, but nowadays it’s uncertain. We now have long drought seasons followed by heavy rains. We have noted that crops like millet, sorghum, and cassava thrive in these harsh conditions because they are resilient,” Chepsat says.

Organic farming

The seeds they preserve are cultivated using organic farming methods, considered the optimal model for producing viable seeds that retain the parent crop’s characteristics over time.

For pest control, instead of chemicals, they use concoctions made from blends of aloe vera, ash, and herbs.

“We use compost and waste from our domestic animals as fertilisers and create plant-based concoctions from ash and soil—for pest control. Our goal is to produce chemical-free crops which are safe for human consumption,” Chepsat says.

When using organic pesticides there is no need to wait for withdrawal period.

“When we use our natural pesticides we can harvest and consume the produce immediately. But when you spray crops with agrovet chemicals, you need to wait for a few weeks for the chemical residue to reduce. Time-tested methods like smoking and the use of glass bottles ensure quality seed preservation,” says Elizabeth Kimayat, a member.

How project works

Each of the 19 members has allocated half an acre on their farms for seed multiplication.

“We provide seeds to non-members, requesting a certain amount of kilograms in return after the harvest. This cycle propels the growth of our seed bank,” Kimayat explains.

Salina Kimaru explains that she selects her seeds soon after harvest and deposits them at the community seed bank immediately to avoid the temptation of consuming or selling them in times of need.

To guard against seed depletion due to shifting weather patterns, they maintain a monitoring team. This four-member team visits farmers, ensuring adherence to organic practices and high quality standards.

So far, their efforts have yielded positive outcomes. The community witnessed increased crop yields, and the women are symbols of hope and inspiration for their neighbours.

During times of hardship and scarcity, the group’s seed bank acts as a solid cushion, as members do not have to buy expensive seeds.

“The assurance of having seeds at our seed bank at all times is a big plus for us. It guarantees us food and nutrition security. Buying seeds and chemicals strains resources, affecting production. Our seed bank eliminates this burden, enabling timely planting,” Chepsat says.

As the sun sets over Lake Bogoria, the women conclude their weeding, their song a testament to their resilience. Their journey to revive traditional agriculture and safeguard their homeland remains strong.