While genetic diversity is seen as an asset in the context of conservation, it also provides farming communities with options when it comes to food security and climate change adaptation.
In farming, it is impossible to predict which new pests or pathogens will develop, how rainfall will fluctuate in the coming years or how food prices will respond to these changes. Traditional Andean farming communities manage these risks by dispersing crops among various small parcels located in different agro-climatic zones, and by using multiple species and local varieties. This way, farmers maintain food, nutritional, environmental, and economic security during times of change.
On-farm community biodiversity management is therefore important, and it is critical to consolidate the role of community institutions in making their own decisions about their farming and food systems. This is what EkoRural seeks to facilitate.
Systems of seed production and distribution
At present, small scale farmers’ informal system of seed production and distribution is the major supplier of seeds of most Andean crops. This seed system includes seed selection, seed production, storage, and local distribution and supply sources.
Over the years, there have been efforts to strengthen local farmers’ seed systems, but they were limited to isolated initiatives and focused on a limited number of staple crops, such as potatoes and a few grains, excluding most native crops. Moreover, these past efforts had a limited impact on improving food security and more diverse farming systems because they did not prioritize participatory action-learning processes with community people, nor did these initiatives build upon local knowledge and values related to seeds.
Community Biodiversity Management
EkoRural strengthens community-based organizations to manage local seed systems and biodiversity. We build the capacity of rural communities to make decisions about the conservation and use of biodiversity in order to ensure access to and control over resources. This is done through facilitating communities’ access to knowledge, information and genetic material.
Community Biodiversity Management is vital for a number of reasons. It helps communities to maintain local knowledge, ensures their control over local production and circulation of seeds, and strengthens community identity. These outcomes in turn strengthen the resilience of rural communities in the face of volatile market dynamics and climate change that are undermining them and their livelihoods.
We believe the recovery and conservation of local biodiversity is critically important, and cannot be left solely in the hands of research centers, government and industry. Farmers and community organizations have a responsibility to maintain and expand this genetic legacy for future generations.
Our key methodologies are therefore aimed at strengthening the agency of communities. We promote dialogue among “wise people” in the communities who have local knowledge of seeds, strengthen networks of seed producers, and encourage local innovation, knowledge and organizational capacity. This process contributes to greater collaboration among community-based organizations and local governments to influence policy and strengthen food sovereignty.
Read also: Giving new life to peasant seeds in Ecuador (R. Borja and P. Oyarzun, in Farming Matters, April 2016)