Location: Soil Management Research
Title: Start with the seed: Native crops, indigenous knowledge, and community seed systems prerequisites for food sovereignty Author
Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: March 16, 2014
Publication Date: N/A
Technical Abstract: The dynamic conservation and sustainable utilization of native crop genetic resources are crucial for food sovereignty of Native American communities. Indigenous knowledge of crop diversity when linked to food traditions, local practices and social norms provide the basis for building sovereign communities that have the capability to produce their own food. Historically, Native American farmers planted diverse assemblages of crop landraces to lower the risk of failure and increase food security because they had limited capacity to control the spatially heterogeneous and temporally unpredictable environment. Native landraces embody not only diverse alleles and genotypes but also evolutionary processes such as gene flow between different crop populations and local knowledge systems such as folk taxonomies, food traditions, and information about selection for heterogeneous environments. In addition, Native American farmers traditionally saved seed of heirloom or local landraces in order to sustain harvests and conserve well-adapted traditional crop diversity. This tradition contributed to conserving local, as well as global agricultural biodiversity, and ensured lower seed supply costs, more diversified food products, improved nutrition and farm self-sufficiency. In response to several historical, demographic and market factors, Native American seed conservation projects have been established in several communities. However, the ability and choice of each community or farmer to save seed depended, to a large extent, on the availability of land and labor, technical training and skill in seed conservation, food needs, farm income, and, possibly, market forces. For Native American farmers to continue to grow, select, improve, and manage the diversity of local crop landraces, and to reverse the fragmentation of their meta-populations, and allow evolutionary processes that mould landrace diversity to continue, the value of these landraces and their products should be raised to approximate, if not exceed the social value of high-yielding crop varieties in the market place. Therefore, re-creating and structuring local seed conservation and exchange systems, to simulate a source-sink meta-population model is a first step towards restoring the fragmented meta-population structure of native landraces. Native farmers and farming communities should be able to identify the unit of conservation for the purpose of structuring a local seed conservation and exchange system, whether it is a whole field representing a unique habitat, a landrace, or even a seed lot. A dynamic community seed conservation and exchange system should take into consideration local and regional variation among farmers in their practices, and the diversity of indigenous knowledge about the nutritional and quality aspects of their crops. In addition, through such a seed system, the community should be able to quantify patterns of seed exchange among farmers and their impact on the biology parameters of landrace population; identify the limiting factors that determine distribution and range of a particular crop landrace; and define the minimum area needed to create a dynamic equilibrium between expanding and extinction of a landrace meta-population. The future of such a community seed system will depend on how strongly food traditions can be linked to dynamic conservation and sustainable utilization of native crop landraces; how does increased knowledge of food traditions help create or expand market demand for crop landrace products; how environmental factors can impact quality and culinary attributes of crop landrace products; and how does the accrued knowledge improve livelihoods of farmers and their communities. Several seed saving and exchange modules will be presented along with their characteristics and functions; these include: de facto community seed banks, community seed exchange, organized seed banks and seed savers' networks. This workshop will help identify the main challenges of building and managing flexible and dynamic community seed saving and exchange systems, including those related to easily-managed biological factors and others related to complex ethno-anthropological norms superimposed on several ecological and genetic diversity conservation processes.