Climate, Seed & Knowledge
The African individuals and communities who feature in the film have been working with partner organisations of the African Biodiversity Network to revive their local seed varieties. In Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa in particular, these communities are reclaiming their seed sovereignty. This area of work, known as the Climate, Seed & Knowledge programme, has been developed by the ABN and Gaia with communities over the last decade. Find out more about it below, and if you feel able to support, please do consider making a donation.
Restoring Seed Sovereignty
Supporting the Climate, Seed & Knowledge (CSK) Programme in Africa
“We have not lost our seeds. The problem we are facing is that they are dwindling. We can still get them back. They are still there.”
Norman, an Elder from the Karima community, Kenya
“Seed is our life. Our livelihoods depend on it. It is good to have different varieties of the same seed. If we only have one variety, what happens if that crop fails? Having a variety of seeds allows us to change seed if we have a bad year”.
Mohammed, farmer, Wollo region of Ethiopia.
Local and indigenous farmers have been breeding their own highly diverse and nutritious varieties of seed for centuries. Diversity is the cornerstone of resilience.
The industrial food system, and GM in particular, is rapidly devastating seed diversity across the western world. It is gaining momentum to do the same across the Global South, with hundreds of thousands of locally adapted indigenous seeds being lost at an unprecedented rate, as farmers are persuaded that the new industrial seeds and chemicals will produce more. By the time the farmers realise the cost, they are in debt, their soils have been dried out and it is difficult to turn back with no support.
In order to challenge the agenda of the industrial food system from the grassroots, the African Biodiversity Network and The Gaia Foundation are supporting a programme of work known as Climate, Seed and Knowledge (CSK). CSK recognises the essential qualities of small-scale agro-ecological farming, but goes one step further, placing farmers’ specialised local knowledge around seed at the heart of the work.
CSK was born out of the realisation amongst communities, that their traditional knowledge and indigenous seed diversity are inextricably connected; they have evolved alongside one another through sophisticated local farming systems, seed saving and sharing over millenia. Together they play a vital role in regenerating cultural and biological diversity, and providing resilience to communities to adapt to changes, across the Global South.
How does the CSK programme work?
Reviving Knowledge through Community Dialogue
Community dialogues are an essential part of the Climate, Seed & Knowledge Programme, to provide a space for communities to reflect and analyse their own situation and to understand what has undermined their traditional knowledge and practices associated with seed and their food and farming system. The elders of the community are vital in this process because they hold both the historical memory of what has happened, as well as the knowledge which has been passed down from one generation to the next. These dialogues begin to coalesce the communities and rebuild their confidence in their own capacity to analyse and understand their story and identify their priorities.
Reviving Memory through Eco-calendars
Eco-calendars are a tool which enable the community to work with the elders to reflect the holistic understanding which they hold in their memory, about the way the whole ecological cycle works and how the food system is embedded in it. This programme has pioneered the use of eco-calendars to stimulate the community to revive their collective memory of their ancestral way of life; to deepen their analysis of what has happened to them and their land; and to develop their vision for the future. This is done by developing a calendar of the past, which helps to revive the memory of how things used to be – the range of crops, the different seasons, and how these were identified by changes in the constellations or ecosystem. The eco-calendar of the present shows how much has been eroded and contrasts starkly with the rich biodiversity and related knowledge of the past. These powerful visual tools provide the basis for communities to develop their vision for the world they choose to build now – the eco-calendar of the future.
The process of creating eco-calendars has proved to be extremely potent tool for assisting communities to restore their understanding and confidence in themselves and their traditional knowledge, farming practices and indigenous seed which have stood the test of time, over thousands of years.
Building Confidence through Knowledge Sharing & Exchange
Farmers across the global south are now witnessing, first hand, that the “modern” seeds, fertilisers and pesticides which promised so much, have taken away more than they have delivered. Despite this, their confidence in their own traditional agricultural knowledge has been greatly undermined by the dominant narrative that small-scale, traditional farming practices are “inefficient” and “backward”. Re-building confidence is a vital part of the restorative process which the CSK programme offers. Farmers are encouraged to revive their traditional seed diversity by multiplying and exchanging their seed. In doing so, they also exchange the rich indigenous knowledge associated with these seeds. Sharing knowledge through seed exchanges and community-based research groups ensures that this wealth of agricultural experience around seed is retained within the farming community and passed on to future generations. It also builds a sense of cohesion and camaraderie amongst neighbouring farmers who can share similar experiences. Through these exchange and sharing processes, the whole community regains confidence in their own traditional understandings and farming practices.
Reviving Complimentary Roles and Responsibilities
By working with both men and women, Elders and youth, a process of remembering customary roles and practices unfolds. Through involving the younger generation in this process, the continuation of this knowledge is assured. Traditional roles and responsibilities of men and women have been severely distorted by the colonial and monetary system. The role of women, who in most communities are the custodians of seed, begins to be restored once again. The complimentary roles of men and women at the various stages of the seed cycle – from selection to planting – are revived, and this plays a vital role in re-establishing order, cohesion and respect in the communities.
Seed & the Sacred
Indigenous seed has played a central role in the rituals and traditions of indigenous communities for centuries. Seed itself is revered as sacred and certain traditional crops are celebrated within rituals, and used as offerings to the ancestors because of they connect the land, the soil and the forefathers of the community to the new generations to come.
Seed is commonly understood as being symbolic of new life, health, vitality and security. In many rites of passage – from birth to marriage ceremonies, initiation, coming of age and in death – seed is offered as a gesture of thanks, an offering to the ancestors, or to mark new beginnings. The seed used in traditional ritual is must be seed which is born from the territory; it must originate from that ecosystem and be part of the indigenous diversity of that place. Traditional ceremonies cannot be conducted with alien species of seed, or new varieties of hybrid seed.
“We cannot talk about seed if we do not talk about sacred sites, or Zwifho. When we harvest we go to the sacred sites for the ritual; the prayers go with the seed. When a person dies, you throw seed on their grave. When a baby is born we plant seed for the baby. When you are matured they shower you with seed. When you marry, you are showered with seed. When people from the outside came here they tried to stop these spiritual practices and this created a disconnection. The rituals were demonised as un-Christian. This is how the seed as the connection between all of life was eroded. ”
Mpatheleni Makaulule, The Mupo Foundation, Venda
It is because of the inextricable link between seed and cultural practices that for many rural communities, the loss of indigenous seed is followed swiftly by a loss of cultural traditions and related ecological knowledge and practices. The push for genetically modified seed not only threatens biodiversity, but also cultural diversity and the deep knowledge of the territory passed on from generation to generation.
Seed Sovereignty – Independence & Diversity
Seed Sovereignty means that farmers and communities have control over their own seed. This seed is locally derived. It is selected and harvested in a culturally appropriate way; and a way through which the needs of the farmer, the community, the soil and the wider ecosystem are all met. It is seed that will meet the nutritional needs of the community and be finely adapted to the ecosystem and climatic conditions.
Through reviving indigenous seed and the knowledge systems interwoven around it, climate change resilience and seed sovereignty can be achieved.
The vital importance of seed sovereignty and autonomy is learnt through the painful lessons of becoming dependent on expensive foreign seed and chemical inputs. Through seed sovereignty, the vitality and resilience which indigenous seed offers, is woven back into the hearts, minds and stomachs of communities.
“Keeping our seed is a collective responsibility. Seed is our wealth. It is neither hers nor mine. It is ours. So we have a joint responsibility. The modern seed is like a stranger or a guest, just like you are. You may indulge us for a day or two, but when you leave tomorrow, it is us who will remain. Just like that, our local seeds will never leave us”.
Mohammed, farmer from the Wollo region of Ethiopia