Promoting communities
dedicated to diversity

Background

Farmers’ seed saving activities have been the main source of the development of agro-genetic diversity throughout centuries. But over the last decades, there has been a substantial loss of seed genetic diversity on a global scale. The disappearance of most local, adaptable seed varieties is largely due to changes in the food system. As a result, today the seed sector appears to be divided: the formal seed system, which is enforced by law and corporate interests next to “informal”, “traditional” or “farmer” seed system, which farmers themselves produce, disseminate and access seed: directly from their own harvest; through exchange and barter among friends, neighbours, and relatives; and through local seed markets.

The loss of global seed diversity means that there are fewer and fewer types of seed available to feed us, and that the world’s food crops are at far greater risk from shocks like pests and extreme weather events. [1] In response to this threat, a movement of community seed initiatives (banks) under farmer-seed-systems has evolved and is spreading throughout the world.

Community Seed Banks (CSBs) have been founded since the early 1980s in Europe, sometimes even earlier in many parts of the world, with the support of national and international non-governmental organizations. CSBs in Europe are mostly based on seed savers’, gardeners’ and farmers’ networks. CSBs are diverse in their aims, activities and socio-economic structures, but draw on similar structures of participatory approaches to crop conservation, management, and improvement. They maintain and develop agricultural bio-diversity, enhance access to seeds and plants adapted to local conditions, provide training and awareness activities, and thereby contribute to sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty.

For over three decades, CSBs have played an important role in maintaining and protecting seed diversity. Despite a steady increase in their number as well as geographical coverage, recognition of their role and contribution has remained minimal. They face many challenges including the lack of legal frameworks, scarce financial resourses and insufficient institutional support. The Community Seed Banks (CSB) Academy was initiated together with partners from the international network of Let’s Liberate Diversity to strengthen CSBs in Europe to overcome multiple social, technical and policy barriers that they face by providing training and funding for innovative solutions. The Academy aims to provide a platform to network, exchange and allow capacity building to European community seed initiatives by supporting them with much-needed tools and resources.

[1] The role of community seed projects in protecting seed diversity, Charlotte Dove, March 2016.