Putting Seed Sovereignty Back in the Hands of the Community

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While serving in the Peace Corps in the Philippines, Sherry Manning, a citizen of the United States, was attempting to find a way to assist her host family, who later became her adoptive family. She was certain it had to do with agriculture and be a long-lasting project that would help her host family support themselves.

I founded Friends of ENCA Farm in 2011 after being inspired during my Peace Corps Service and by the Cosalan Families ancestral  land right battle. We were initially founded to support their land, the ENCA Farm, and as we saw our work and potential reach grow, we decided to change our name to Global Seed Savers (GSS) and began working beyond Tublay, Benguet.”, shares Sherry.

Sherry Manning is the Founder and Executive Director of GSS © Sherry Manning

Karen Lee Hizola joined Sherry’s initiative in late 2015 and by 2017, Global Seed Savers Philippines (GSSP) was registered as a non-profit organisation in the Philippines. It is a sister organisation to the Global Seed Savers based in the U.S. of which Sherry is the Founder and Executive Director.

The Philippines is rich in flora and native resources which give the country a variety of plant species and boosts biodiversity. Unfortunately, with such a large portion of agriculture under corporate control, our diets are impacted by changes in the food we ultimately receive.

“Instead of having different varieties of vegetables or rice, we end up having a limited number available in the market, which threatens our biodiversity”, continues Karen. 

This is why the organisation wants to showcase that the Philippines has a variety of indigenous seeds and also has the capacity to save these seeds for future use when needed. The benefits of belonging to IFOAM – Organics International include the opportunity to learn from people in other nations and hear about their experiences with farmer-led seed-saving efforts.

Karen Lee Hizola is the Executive Director of GSSP © Karen Lee

It is all not roses

Much as the practice of seed saving is important and has proven benefits for both people and the environment at large, it has not been easy for Global Seed Savers. According to Karen, a lot of farmers know how harmful synthetic inputs are and how genetically modified seeds threaten biodiversity. However, some do not have a choice due to limited resources. It becomes harder to sell the idea of seed advocacy when some leaders do not perceive it as important and when the farmers are worried that not even their basic needs are being met. The frequent typhoons create a lot of uncertainty and make it hard for communities to keep moving forward as a lot of time is spent rebuilding.

With such challenges, Global Seed Savers is trying to push for seed saving to be included in the country’s Disaster Risk Reduction Management Program. With the massive destruction caused by the most recent typhoons, the farmers have limited resources and are faced with a choice to either plant again or rebuild. However, if there are seed libraries in the communities, this guarantees farmers access to seeds that they can use to regrow their crops. This means farmers have one less thing to worry about!

GSSP and Cebu Seed Savers group having their year-end meeting and thanksgiving © GSSP

On top of that, it is important to emphasise the necessity of seed sovereignty

“When you hold a seed in your hand, you are holding the past, present and future. If you are not saving seeds, you are not seed sovereign; if you are not seed sovereign, you are not food sovereign; and if you are not food sovereign, you are not food secure. ” Karen shares. 

That is why Global Seed Savers collaborates with partners across the Philippines including: Local Government, other NGOs and Farmers Organizations in an effort:

  • to encourage the use of organic practices because they improve soil fertility and boost biodiversity
  • Bring seed sovereignty back to the hands of the farmers and not corporate companies through teaching seed saving practices in Seed School and establishing community operated seed libraries.

GSSP facilitating year-end seed exchange among Cebu Seed Savers farmers and urban gardeners © GSSP

The organisation is also currently working with the Benguet Association of Seed Savers in the north and Cebu Seed Savers in the central of the country to start seed libraries within the communities. To date, Global Seed Savers:

  • has trained over 5,000 farmers in seed saving practices,
  • manages three seed libraries 
  • and has inspired the creation of three others that are locally led. 

The goal is to have a seed library in every province of the country that is farmer-led and implemented, and also include everyone in the community in promoting organic and natural farming practices. 

The Cebu Seed Savers farmers and urban gardeners showing off their seed packages after the workshop © GSSP

Why is this important?

How people purchase food has an impact on how agriculture is carried out. The suppliers and the farmers who grow the food will adapt when customers choose to purchase organic products. For farmers to be able to conserve, trade, and breed seeds, policymakers must design policies that support genetic variety and give them control over their own seed supply.

Global Seed Savers is eager to collaborate with regional leaders who share its values in order to develop and execute policies and initiatives for the preservation of seed biodiversity. In order to safeguard and protect seed and food sovereignty, this is essential.

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