For many years EkoRurals team has worked on strengthening farmer management of genetic resources in small farmer communities in the Central highlands of Ecuador. Seeds have been the focus of farmer-led action-learning activities aimed to reverse effect of erosion on Andean species and varieties while enhancing farmer families resilience and livelihoods.
In 2008, in a small rural community called ‘Chirinche Bajo’ in the highlands of Cotopaxi, four women of the local peasant women organization decided to start a Banco de Semilla (Seed Bank). EkoRural facilitated the discussion and helped them conceptually -and materially shape the initiative. Based on the experience, the start of the bank was modest: only 11 kilos of seed potatoes of the cultivar Libertad, coming from cultivars -and multiplication trials.
To capitalize the bank they implemented the so called 2 x1 strategy, which means that the person who borrows seed in this system brings after harvest and selection twice the amount of seed borrowed, back to the bank where before acceptance the produce is controlled in quantity and quality. On the photos below you can see women working on selection at the seed bank. The process also implies that participants have to develop both organization and technical skills.
Nowadays, four years after being started this initiative the group of women expended up to eleven members, and this number keeps growing. From a few kilos at the start, the Chirinche Bajo seed bank now has managed up to 200 qq. (which is about 9 tons) of seed potatoes! Moreover, the women in the bank have saved up to $4000, – in kind and credits. With the returns and savings the woman are able to use credits to pay e.g. school fees or buy other nutritional food products. Yet, this is only a small part of the total capitals (social, natural, financial, etc.) the women made. An important part of the harvest is used for sale and own consumption.
At the start of this initiative the women of Chirinche Bajo where not used to speak their mind freely in public. This is often the case in rural communities, where men are still dominating woman as part of gender differences. This process has enabled not only to achieve technical success but also to develop leadership skills and empowerment among others. The example of the women in Chirinche Bajo is now encouraging many other communities in this region to start Bancos Comunitarios de Semillas.