The Global Alliance for the Future of Food (GA) released a report, titled “Seeds of Resilience: A Compendium of Perspectives on Agricultural Biodiversity from Around the World.” Led by the GA’s Agroecological Transitions Working Group (ATWG), the publication focuses on the role seeds and seed diversity can play in sustainable agriculture, food security, and nutrition. Lauren Baker, Consultant on Strategic Initiatives and Programs at the GA, told Food Tank that the organization “believes that seeds are the foundation of sustainable, equitable, and secure food systems and that maintaining and enhancing agricultural biodiversity is critical in light of global challenges such as climate change, and food and nutrition security.”
Agricultural biodiversity experts Emile Frison, a member of the International Panel of Experts of Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), and Toby Hodgkin from Bioversity International author the opportunities section of the report, which outlines the value of seed diversity, discusses challenges to preservation, and proposes action steps. The report also includes a series of commentaries from experts around the globe about community-based seed systems, the role of women and indigenous farmers, and farmer involvement in policymaking. This diversity of voices, Baker said, reflects efforts to “create a matrix of recommendations from the local to the global, and across issues that impact agricultural biodiversity.”
The report points to a shift in consumer conscience about food and where it comes from—a change that presents opportunities for building alliances between foundations, donors, farmers, and policymakers. The report highlights communities and organizations working to maintain sustainable, resilient agricultural networks through preserving seed diversity and establishing new kinds of partnerships. These efforts could offer opportunities to improve resources and share knowledge through breaking down boundaries between formal and informal seed sectors, and between public and private institutions. “Robust seed systems,” the report emphasizes, “are central to sustainable food systems that are renewable, resilient, equitable, diverse, healthy, and interconnected.”
The report reminds readers that 21 percent of global plants are at risk of extinction, according to the 2016 State of the World’s Plants report. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that rice, wheat, and maize now make up 60 percent of the global plant-based food supply. Contributor Emigdio Ballon, Director of the Agricultural Department at the Pueblo of Tesuque in New Mexico, reminds readers that many of the “some 10,000 species [that had] been used for human food and agriculture” in the past have now have fallen by the wayside. Local farming communities have traditionally maintained seed diversity, and, the report demonstrates, are threatened by its decline.
And, Frison and Hodgkin underscore, local seed systems and informal networks of seed and knowledge sharing are often ignored by local and national policymakers, as well as at the international level. They propose that diverse agricultural systems and approaches to seed management depend not only on the inclusion of farmers in policymaking discussions but a reorientation towards flexible and participatory seed legislation.
Seeds of Resilience presents a range of opinions about the ways to preserve diverse seed systems. Maryam Rahmanian of the Centre for Sustainable Development proposes that “the collective nature of the seed system…has to be at the heart of any effort to protect and strengthen it”—agricultural biodiversity depends on community-based seed systems. Yet, there is little precedent for farmer integration into formal structures for seed saving, like seed banks, often located outside farming communities. Pat Mooney of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration points to the need to acknowledge “that farmers not only preserve, but they also develop…preservation is far from a curator function.” Community-managed seed saving establishments could offer the means to recognize farmers’ roles as developers and increase farmer access to seed diversity.
Many of the contributors point to the potential for improving knowledge-sharing systems between community-based seed systems. Work by on-the-ground advocacy groups, international development aid organizations, and NGOs will be integral to establish new collaborations. Baker told Food Tank that the GA is eager to learn “more about what kinds of partnerships are working to positively support community-based and farmer-managed seed systems” to ensure farmers can play an active, recognized role in preserving (and using) resilient seed systems.
Farmers continue to fight around the globe to preserve seed diversity and the cultural and practical benefits therein. The report highlights Nelson Mudzingwa, farmer and national coordinator of the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmer Forum. He says, “Seeds are the first link in the food chain and the repository of life’s future evolution. As such, it is our inherent duty and responsibility to protect them and to pass them on to future generations…for biodiversity and cultural diversity mutually shape one another.”