Global Seed Savers is working with smallholder farmers in the Philippines to restore food sovereignty. The international nonprofit provides farmers with resources and education to preserve the indigenous practice of seed saving. “We focus on sovereignty, not simply food security,” Sherry Manning, Founder and Executive Director of Global Seed Savers tells Food Tank.
According to Manning, sovereignty addresses a farmer’s right to decide how they cultivate their crops and with whom they conduct their business. “If food security is about the consumer, food sovereignty puts the focus on the [needs] of the producers,” Manning tells Food Tank.
Since 2015, the organization has conducted over 5,000 hours of training programs for more than 3,000 farmers on how to propagate, store, and sell regionally adapted seeds. Global Seed Savers has also established four community owned and operated seed libraries in the Province of Benguet, a region in the Northern Philippines. These libraries offer smallholder farmers access to a wide variety of locally produced, regionally adapted seeds.
“Seeds are the foundation of our food system,” Manning tells Food Tank. By saving seeds from the best crops season after season, farmers can build a diverse supply that is adapted to the environmental conditions of their region. Especially in the Philippines, it is vital that farmers strengthen their resilience to the impacts of severe weather and other natural disasters. The archipelago ranked first among 172 countries for climate change-related risk in the 2019 Global Peace Index.
In 2018, Typhoon Mangkhut tested Global Seed Savers’ model for improving farmers’ resilience to climate catastrophe. The destructive storm swept through the region with Category 5-level winds, 40-foot waves, and torrential rain. Although farmland across the Province of Benguet was severely impacted, seed saving helped many farming families recover quickly. “Thanks to our founding seed library, just days after the storm…our farmers were all able to access seeds and begin replanting right away,” Manning tells Food Tank.
Reducing farmers’ dependence on multinational corporations for seeds is also imperative to the survival of indigenous crop varieties, according to Manning. “Across the world, industrialized agriculture…[is] monopolizing the industry,” says Manning. With nearly one third of the Philippines’ total land area dedicated to cash crops, production of local staples falls short, according to a 2018 report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
For Manning, seed saving is as much about preserving farmers’ heritage as it is about their livelihoods. “We cannot separate culture and identity from the art, act, and love of growing food,” says Manning. “Seed Saving is an essential piece of this knowledge and in order to build a resilient food system in these ever-changing times we have to return to this indigenous wisdom.”
Manning says there is still much work ahead for the grassroots movement of seed saving. The nonprofit is now focusing on expanding seed saving education programs to the Province of Cebu in the Southern Philippines. “We are slowly, one farmer, and one community at a time, building our own collective future that is rooted in the land, in the soil, and in the seed.”
Photo courtesy of Sherry Manning, Founder and Executive Director of Global Seed Savers