The following are updates and reflections from Neil Munro, coordinator of Gaia’s UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme, who recently participated in the Global Food Alliance’s Strategic Convening on Resilient Seed Systems in Oaxaca, Mexico.
In 2016 a report was released entitled ‘The Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience. A Compendium of Perspectives on Agricultural biodiversity from around the world’. This report was commissioned by The Global Alliance for the Future of Food, and their partners, to ‘stimulate information-sharing, learning and collective action’ concerning the ‘preservation, maintenance and enhancement of agricultural biodiversity’. The report came up with ten key messages that highlighted the central importance of farmers within dialogues regarding seed systems, the value of collaboration between formal and informal seed networks and the vital interconnected relationship that ‘diverse and robust’ local seed systems have within a sustainable food system.
Building on this, a strategic convening of key stakeholders was held in Oaxaca, Mexico in late October.
Oaxaca de Juarez is a city of around 300,000 in the South of Mexico, nestled in the Central Valleys region at the foothills of the Sierra Madre. Throughout the four-day gathering the 105 attendees, representing organisations from 39 countries, worked together to develop the core elements of a Shared Action Framework, to include the principles of resilient seed systems and identify needs and opportunities for supporting those seed systems within the broader framework of sustainable food systems.
1. Build trust and dialogue across key seed systems stakeholders.
2. Articulate key principles for resilient seed systems and for working together.
3. Create a common narrative about the strategic importance of resilient seed systems.
4. Collaborate on the development of a Shared Action Framework for global, coordinated action to support and enhance seed systems resilience.
5. Identify steps required to refine the Shared Action Framework, engage additional stakeholders, and develop an implementation strategy.
Key speakers emphasised the importance of changing the focus of industrial agriculture:
“..no mention of genetic adaptability of crops” – Dr Jose Sarukhan Kermez.
“We need a change of paradigm, where agro-ecology can play a main part. The industrial model of specialisation, monoculture and artificial inputs make it difficult to take things further if it still exists. It is difficult to make a case for diversity. This new paradigm needs to include the social, health, etc, based on principles of agroecology” – Emile Freeson.
Draft principles for resilient seed systems
Seed systems are connected to rich and diverse agricultural, ecological, and cultural heritage around the world.
Greater diversity of species and varieties improves the resilience of farming systems, ensuring they are regenerative, durable, and economically adaptive in the face of a changing planet.
Resilient seed systems contribute to sustainable livelihoods and access to nutritious and just food systems for all. The knowledge and practices of smallholder farmers, in particular women and Indigenous Peoples, play a crucial role in improving seed varieties and enhancing agricultural biodiversity.
Resilient seed systems are essential for a healthy planet and future generations in the face of changing global and local demands.
Greater species and genetic diversity is the basis for improved dietary diversity and nutrition, and can advance the health and well-being of people, animals, the environment, and the societies that depend on all three.
Enhanced interdependence of seed systems, food systems, people, and the planet in a transition to more sustainable food systems.
Shared Action Framework
The idea of the Shared Action Framework is for it to be a set of priority actions that multiple partners can ‘take independently and together across sectors and geographies to strengthen resilient seed systems’.
Nine broad issues and themes were identified:
• Seeds and Agroecological Food Systems
• Climate Change and Agroecology/Agricultural Biodiversity
• Seed Legislation and Policy
• Farmers Rights
• Linkages: ex-situ | in-situ | formal | informal
• Promoting Innovation
• Intellectual Property Rights, Open Source Seed Systems and Other Approaches
• Landscape and Evolutionary Approaches
• Science and Research for Resilient Seed Systems
Workshops on these issues asked key questions: Why is this a pressing theme? Are there issues of tension? What barriers exist? What are the priority actions to overcoming and strengthening seed systems in light of this?
Interacting with seed systems outside the conference walls
Participants in the Strategic Convening had the opportunity to visit local examples of specific seed systems. Four visits were arranged and I visited ‘CEDICAM’ (Centre for Integral Campesino Development of the Mixteca). La Mixteca is a region in the west of the state of Oaxaca and is home to the Mixtec people. The Mixtec use a traditional crop growing system that is used throughout Mesoamerica, known as milpa. The system concentrates on maize, beans and squash. On this visit, we were introduced to the Cajete corn, an old landrace that is extremely drought resistant and grows well on poor soils and told how the region has recently been subjected to drought and floods and the way they have gone about restoring it.
We also visited a farmer growing Cajete and were told how the corn fits into the milpa method of cultivation, sowing in the dry months and sown with beans. The corn had grown well in comparison with more modern varieties and with minimum fertiliser, some of the seed having been saved to sow again next year.
Since the meeting, some of those who were involved in the parallel working sessions have been in discussion about how to take forward some of the key findings from those workshops and who in the wider community ought to be included.
‘Who else needs to be engaged in reviewing and refining the shared action framework and who can be engaged as implementation partners’?
After the meeting, the Narrative and Shared Action Framework will be shared with a broader network of stakeholders through various means, including webinars and smaller meetings, with the goal of further developing, and refining the framework. This framework ‘will provide a guide to strategic actions and activities of diverse stakeholders that foster a holistic, collaborative approach to enhancing the resilience of our seed systems and the contributions they can make towards many critical global priorities’. (Future of Food website)
Seed Sovereignty of UK & Ireland