Seeds at the heart of first European community exchange

By Emily Caruso, Regional Programmes Director, Global Diversity Foundation

As we go by our daily lives, we might not always remember that seeds are at the very source of life on this planet, and essential for the survival of many beings who live on it. We also might not know that the future is uncertain for the diversity and integrity of the seeds that sustain us.

Luckily for us, there is a global community of people who are working together to protect and maintain our seeds. Through the Global Environments Network, we recently organised our first Europe-based Community Exchange (ECE) in Barcelona to gather individuals and organisations working on seeds – in all their guises – to share ideas, exchange lessons and build collaborative relationships. We are excited to share the results of our discussions and proposed pathways to a common vision.

A ‘fishbowl’ dialogue on Community Seed Banks encouraged participants to explore different opinions and perspectives on these initiatives.


What challenges do our seeds face?

On the one hand, contemporary food production and consumption economies have led to a dramatic reduction in the diversity of crops sold, and by proxy, in the diversity of crops grown. This has led to the continued loss of many local and traditional varieties, which not only represents the loss of an incredible wealth of knowledge and biocultural diversity, but perhaps more urgently, it represents the loss of traits that may allow us to adapt our agricultural practice to diverse and changing conditions, including those resulting from climate change. On the other hand, contemporary agribusiness models, sustained by national and regional policies, are concentrating and privatising control over the seeds we need for our survival in the hands of a few corporations.


How did our workshop help to advance collaborations to address those challenges?

The European community of seed professionals works at the frontline of policy and practice to ensure that we don’t lose access to – and ultimately our control over – our crop and food biodiversity. They are working to conserve the seeds of our incredible existing agrobiodiversity in local and regional seed banks, to increase seed diversity through organic breeding, to guarantee our control over our seeds through innovative measures that ensure they cannot be privatised or patented, and to ensure the integrity of our seeds in the face of genetic engineering.

Director of Barcelona Botanical Gardens talks about their insect hotel that was created to attract pollinators and other insects.

The ECE eschewed formal presentations in favour of active, participatory methods for mutual learning and joint reflection. We visited innovative farming and academic initiatives around Barcelona that conserve seeds, enhance agrobiodiversity and provide healthy organic produce for the city. We worked together on developing a collective “Pathways to a common vision”, which proposes to bring together the great diversity of practice in the European seed ‘movement’ and identify potential collaborations and joint initiatives, as well as a shared vision for the future. Global Diversity Foundation committed to the development of one of these pathways that aims to support emerging individuals and initiatives working on seeds to find and engage with experienced mentors within the movement, ensuring the ‘passing on’ of knowledge and wisdom for the next generation of seed protectors.

Participants at the ECE get to know each other and the plants and trees in the Palau Reial park.

GDF Mediterranean Ethnobiology Programme Director, Global Environments Network Mediterranean Regional Coordinator  and organiser of the event, Ugo D’Ambrosio said, “It was a pleasure to coordinate and participate in the first European Community Exchange on Seed Diversity and Sovereignty, which allowed a very diverse and motivated group of professionals and changemakers from all corners of Europe and beyond to exchange ideas, cross-pollinate initiatives and engage in formal and non-formal dialogue for collective action.”

Many of us left the workshop feeling inspired, connected and empowered to bring seeds back to the heart of our communities. Here they can be protected by us, and in turn provide us with the security we need to face our unpredictable futures.

Participants and facilitators of the first European Community Exchange on Seed Diversity and Sovereignty.

Article first submitted to GlobalGiving: Support 100 Global Emerging Environmental Leaders

All photos by Inanc Tekguc.