Increasing agrobiodiversity in Basquitay

women with papasBasquitay, one of EkoRural’s partner communities located in the Chimborazo province of Ecuador, has recently been working to start up a community seed bank to support the preservation of agrobiodiversity across the country’s Central Highlands region.

Unpredictable weather patterns, temperatures, and rainfall caused by climate change increase the vulnerability of Ecuador’s rural highlands communities, such as Basquitay. Though members of the community have emphasized that they feel fortunate to live in an area that has sufficient rainfall and fertile lands, soil degradation and climate change pose challenges to food production. From heavy rains to intense heat, it is hard for to plan crop plantings with unanticipated and sometimes extreme weather fluctuations. The new seed bank is one way that Basquitay and EkoRural are working together to build resilience to these threats. By increasing and preserving genetic diversity in the community, Basquitay will increase their protection against variable weather and other unexpected factors. With a diverse variety of food crops comes the assurance that, despite challenges posed by external factors, there will always be an available source of food.

Basquitay’s president, Francisco Lema, also the community promoter for EkoRural’s Chimborazo program, says, “During my time with EkoRural, I have worked with other communities to create seed banks and conserve and restore crop diversity, and I wanted to bring this to my own community as well.”

The seed bank initiative has already received much support in Basquitay. Community members have come together to convert an abandoned house into the home of the new seedbank; windows and doors have been replaced and plans to put on a new roof are under way. In October 2014, many people came together in a traditional  ‘minga’ (a collective work party) to plant a potato plot whose seeds will contribute to the bank. Twenty three different potato varieties were provided by EkoRural and INIAP, a governmental research institute that provides technical agricultural assistance in Ecuador, and Basquitay will continue spreading these seeds by participating in the 2 for 1 program. The 2 for 1 program is a process of exchange where for each seed that farmers take from the seedbank, they provide two seeds back. In this way, the overall stock increases over time and others can share in the growing abundance.

Francisco says that although Basquitay’s seed bank is still underway, local visitors have already begun to come in order to learn about the process, share their experiences, and take ideas back to their own communities. By providing a space for this sort of interaction and knowledge sharing, in addition to the sharing of valuable genetic material, banks like the one in Basquitay are truly offering seeds for positive change.

Below are some photos of the community workday and potato planting in Basquitay.

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Saving the Seeds of the Past for the Future

Sonia Zambrano, the EkoRural coordinator for the Central Sierra Region of the Ecuadorian Andes, informed me that usually the community of Tzimbuto was much more beautiful.   The irrigation canal was undergoing repairs, so the land lacked water and the lush greenness that often characterizes the Andean hillsides.  But it was a perfect day and, in spite of Sonia’s insistence to the contrary, the view was breathtaking.

The community of Tzimbuto is already involved in the Canastas Comunitarias in Riobamba, a market in which farmers agree to use organic practices to cultivate food and, rather than dealing with wholesale middlemen, sell directly to low-income consumers, who pay a fair price for the healthy produce.  However  in this past year, the community has gone a step further towards increasing biodiversity  and securing reliable income from their farmland.  After three years of planning, the community-run seed bank, Nueva Vida (New Life), is now in full operation and highly functional.

On a very practical level, the seed bank purchases seeds used for animal feed and soil building, such as oatmeal and alfalfa, in bulk so that farmers do not have to make the long, bumpy journey into the city.  This has allowed the seedbank to grow its capital.  Meanwhile, certain potato, bean and corn species that are native to the area (and quickly disappearing as farmers buy commercial seed) are making a reappearance.  Farmers can take a certain quantitiy of heirloom seed at the beginning of the growing season, but they must return two times that amount of seed in order to be permitted to utilize the seed bank for the following season.  In this cash-poor region, a bartering system is the perfect method for recuperating the seeds and plants that best grow in the area.  It also makes the community a perfect experimental site for organizations like the Centro Internacional de Papas (International Potato Center) – who connect to such projects through EkoRural.

Unlike many  “development projects” that are executed by an external organization and lose their utility when the organization or funding disappears, the Nueva Vida seed bank was conceived and implemented by local community members with minimal facilitation by EkoRural.  Every month, a different community member is in charge of keeping careful records of transactions.  52 farmers from the surrounding communities already utilize this start-up venture.  The small amount of seed money ($500) provided by has quickly grown to ($2,500 – combined cash and materials) through conscientious team management and strategic partnerships with seed and plant material providers.

Take a moment to view the slideshow below and learn more about yet another community initiative that EkoRural has helped to grow:

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