S is for seed banks

S is for seed banks

Date: 7 October 2014

Community Seeds Banks emerged about 30 years ago as a response to biological diversity loss,  increasing corporate control over  seeds and the impact of natural disasters and climate change on crop production.

Today there are countless seed banks around the world and some countries like India and Nepal have over 100. Seed banks perform a number of important functions. For starters they help to conserve local plant varieties, make seeds more accessible (usually at a lower price than commercial seeds) and increase seed sovereignty. But they also create a community space where farmers can swap seeds and talk about seed varieties. Finally seed banks can also help to create new livelihoods and income by farmers breeding and selling seeds through the bank.

In Ethiopia and Zambia for example, incomes from growing and selling seed varieties are around two to three times more than the average household income. Giving farmers access to improved seed varieties can have a tremendous impact on yields. In Lude Hitosa, an area of the Oromia Region of Ethiopia, local seed co-operatives estimate that around half of households now have access to higher-yielding varieties of wheat, bean and local grain, teff seeds through seed banks. Yields from these seeds can be up to twice as high as those that were traditionally used before.

Photo: Jogimara community seed bank in Nepal. Credit: bioversity international

The A-Z of Food Sovereignty in Africa shows the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture. A new letter was posted each day in the lead up to World Food Day arrived on 16 October 2014.

Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to feed themselves but the political and economic rules which govern the food system are set against them. These rules are written by and for multinational companies and political elites, in support of a global food system that benefits them rather than the millions of smallholders and family farmers who produce the food and get little in return.