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Project preserves and reclaims native seeds in Maranhão

Supported by CESE’s Small Projects Programme, the NGO ACESA strengthens families’ food autonomy and sovereignty through the propagation of native seeds

Cultural and ancestral richness preserved in seeds.  This is the meaning native seeds have for farmers from Maranhão who, by valuing and preserving them, also conserve their ancestors’ knowledge.  Supported by CESE’s Small Projects Programme, the Community Association for Education in Health and Agriculture (Associação Comunitária de Educação em Saúde e Agricultura: ACESA), an NGO, is promoting a series of activities, until December 2021, for the planting of seeds considered extinct, as well as for their selection, treatment and storage, through training activities such as workshops, meetings and technical advice.

According to Raimundo Alves da Silva, ACESA’s Executive Coordinator, native seeds represent a heritage of wisdom.  “Within themselves they hold great richness and a relationship with our ancestors.  They knew which seeds were most suitable for that space, for that climate.  This is why for us, when someone holds a seed for its preservation, maintenance and enhancement, this person becomes a guardian of the seed.  Because they hold all the knowledge, involving cultivation with the land, with the climate and other natural elements,” the manager explained.

This is the main reason why, through training, the project encourages people to become guardians of these seeds.  As well as having a direct relationship with the land, caring and respecting the cultivation dynamics within the territory, being a guardian of the seed has a direct relationship with maintaining knowledge, transmitted from generation to generation, within family and ancestral relationships.

“Here in the town we argue for every family to have their family seed bank.  For every family to be interested in developing a relationship in the context of production, guaranteeing the preservation of native seeds, but above all guaranteeing the preservation of biodiversity, which guarantees productivity and quality in the production process, respecting local cultures” said Raimundo.

These practices expand the conditions for income generation, providing sovereignty to farmers in choosing what to produce. The ACESA initiative reclaims existing knowledge, such as ancestral technology, which is undervalued in large agribusiness practices that often compromise biodiversity.

Guardians of the Seeds – The preservation of this cultural and ancestral knowledge for food autonomy and sovereignty and for the relationship with the land lies in the hands of women.  According to Alves, “they are the main guardians, who take care to guard and share the seeds. At ACESA we have involved young people in this process. Because if we’re talking about something transmitted from generation to generation, it’s important that this young group takes on the responsibility and discusses the importance of maintaining and guaranteeing native seeds for posterity”.

     

The project also promotes the recording of seeds and their history, focused on their propagation, as well as identifying members to generate production in family units, with technical and educational follow-up.  And it is in this sense that they seek out the guardians of the seeds, people dedicated to their care and continuity. Since 2014, the organization has encouraged seed exchanges, surveying what and how much each family has available, and sharing seeds in training arenas, for example in the Family Farmers Forum (Fórum de Agricultoras e Agricultoras Familiares).

Agro-ecological production, food security and the restoration of knowledge about native seeds are discussed in the training sessions. The current project is one more step on a journey that has been going on for some years. But it’s not all that simple: native seeds present certain challenges in maintenance and treatment.

“Some seeds were becoming lost, for example coriander, the lettuce seed and seeds of certain fruits we had in the region.  The project comes from the perspective of providing training, based on a survey of what has been restored.  Something which we were losing. We hope that families understand the importance of having a space in their house for the maintenance and enhancement of these seeds, thinking about food security, current agro-ecological production.  And thinking about the production of other generations”, he explained.

The project will guarantee the purchase of seeds that no longer exist in the region, searching in other territories in Maranhão, through restoration work and for the future creation of a seed bank at ACESA, which will serve as a demonstration for future training sessions.

“All these stages will take place jointly, within a training process that generates only good results because everyone participates actively,” Alves added.  Partnership with CESE strengthens this understanding: “This project with CESE will enable us to promote the restoration of knowledge that has to continue.  This will take place through the families, accompanied by ACESA, from the perspective of guaranteeing autonomy, food sovereignty and the protection of biodiversity through the sharing and multiplication of seeds, of history, of the values of people who have passed through here, who are here and who are yet to come.  We think this will help to ensure the maintenance of native seeds through the families’ organization and care.  And finally, provide an indispensable technique for good living,” he concluded.