Farmers’ Knowledge and Seeds in Mexico: Food Solutions via Mexico Seed Project
World Food Day, celebrated on October 16th, focuses attention on solutions to hunger and poverty. For Groundswell International, that is where our attention is focused every day. Seeds, soils, water, markets – these are all essential and interconnected parts of healthy farming and food systems. But at the center of it all are family farmers – their human ingenuity and solidarity, building on their indigenous knowledge, cultures, and legacy of continuously innovating solutions with nature, instead of against it. We just completed a three and a half year program in southern Mexico focused on strengthening indigenous farming communities and local NGOs to improve management of their native seed systems. The result is an increased ability and autonomy to adapt, store, and distribute, and cultivate their most effective and preferred native seed varieties, increasing their capacity for food production and bolstering resilience to climate change. Edwin Escoto, Groundswell’s Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, led the program coordination and highlighted some of the results below. We are grateful for the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for this vital program.
Steve Brescia, Executive Director
Our work to catalyze resilient seed systems in Mexico, which went on through the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, deepened vital lessons for Groundswell International and our regional partners. The program included a partnership of eight NGOs working with 1,202 smallholder farm families across 55 communities in three states in southern Mexico. The collaboration has contributed to lasting change in the seed and food systems in communities throughout the country.
The pandemic highlighted how much we all have to learn about sustainable livelihoods. We need to better understand how to live with nature in a regenerative and healthy way. Smallholder and indigenous farmers already have a deep respect for nature and its cycles, as well as an understanding of how to replicate natural processes to feed growing populations despite many challenges.
This program served to strengthen farmer’s seed systems, to enable long-term seed and food security for the most vulnerable farming households, and to increase the capacity of eight local organizations through participatory learning. Organizations emphasized their local needs and priorities. Our partners at Centro de Desarrollo Integral Campesino de la Mixteca (CEDICAM), support the local farmer population through the promotion of agroecology. CEDICAM and the communities it represents have gained recognition for their work at regenerating eroded landscapes in Oaxaca.
We began by supporting partners to carry out a Diagnostic Seed Safety Assessment (DSS) to deepen knowledge about the current state and community management of diverse, native seed varieties. The DSS became a tool for community learning, allowing farmers to develop action plans over several seasons to improve the selection, storage, distribution and use of quality native seeds, in order to improve their farming systems and production of healthy food.
The climate crisis is a huge challenge for these farming communities. But they are finding local solutions through farmer experimentation, allowing them to strengthen skills to innovate on their farms, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of local seed varieties, including resilience to climate change. Agroecological practices are enabling farmers to better manage unpredictable rainfall, droughts and flooding. Two great achievements of this program include:
- the emergence of community seed guardians, who have created ‘seed houses’ as a space where peasant families interested in cultivating and adapting them to their regions can obtain them, and
- strengthening knowledge on the importance of improving soil life and fertility, essential for seed productivity.
The program also met the growing interest of farmers to recover native seed varieties that have nearly been lost. This included strengthening family and community seed reserve systems to face the effects of droughts, delayed rains, and the presence of early frosts.
In conclusion, the project shows us that feelings of empowerment are growing around working to strengthen local seed systems and bringing focus to those systems’ vital importance for families, not only for consumption, but also for food security. Agroecology offers an alternative and efficient perspective for field work, especially because of its emphasis on respecting traditional work, being adaptable and incorporating traditional local knowledge.
This program reminds us that our mission of strengthening communities to build healthy farming and food systems from the ground up remains vital. Building on their traditional knowledge, indigenous farmers in Mexico have growing skills, strategies and power to improve seed systems, food production and lives.