Communities developing own strategies to face climate change through Community Seed Banks in Guatemala


Communities developing own strategies to face climate change through Community Seed Banks in Guatemala

Climate Change Adaptation Latin America IFAD-EU NUS Spanish

Central America’s vulnerability to extreme natural events has exacerbated in recent years as a result of the changing climate. Hurricanes, droughts and storms have been hitting more frequently than usual, which has affected agricultural production and consequently food security. The impact is especially felt in the dry corridor of Central America, which includes northern Honduras, western El Salvador and southern Guatemala.  

Community Seed Banks (CSBs) can enhance farmers’ resilience in facing climatic challenges. These seed stores enable restoration of agricultural systems after natural disasters, such as drought or storms that cause farmers to lose their seeds. They also support longer term crop adaptation to changing conditions by facilitating the conservation and use of a broad diversity of varieties. Hence, CSBs contribute to food security and, on a longer term, to countries’ economic development. The importance of CSBs has been acknowledged in international genetic conservation strategies such as the Strategic Action Plan to Strengthen the Conservation and Use of Mesoamerican Plant Genetic Resources for Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change (SAPM) and the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources (MAP).

As a result of the increasing attention for their important role, hundreds of CSBs have recently been established in Guatemala. Five of these were founded by Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG) under the project "Establishment of a preliminary network of community seed banks in vulnerable regions of Guatemala, to provide seed in the event of a natural disaster”. The project operated between 2012 and 2014 in four regions in Guatemala (Sololá, Chiquimula, Zacapa and Alta Verapaz) with funding provided by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.  Seeds of local maize (Zea mays) and bean (Phaseolus) landraces, developed through hundreds of years by the farmers, are stored in the five CSBs.

CSBs are often established through projects that are only funded for a short period. When the projects (and funding) end the CSBs can collapse if they are not economically self-sustainable. This has not been the case for the five CSBs established by UVG. Two years after project completion, the banks are still functioning without any financial aid. The CSBs are now managed and operated independently by the farmers and decisions are made without external influence.

To learn about what has enabled the success of these CSBs and to support their continued development, participatory workshops were held led by Silvana Maselli, associate Professor in the Biology Department and research head of the Plant Genetic Resources Unit at the Center of Food and Agriculture Studies (CEAA) at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG). Workshops were held as part of the IFAD-EU NUS project. Through a participatory process, CSB members identified the actors, methodologies and other elements necessary for them to establish and operate their own seed bank. They shared good practices as well as lessons learned from the challenges that members are facing in different aspects of running a seed bank as a community. 

One of the main messages from the exercise is that one size does not fit all and CSBs cannot be expected to automatically function if established under a national CSB scheme. The context in which the banks exist varies and communities have different needs, which is why an individual operating strategy must be developed for each CSB. Also, it is crucial that the process of developing this strategy is in the hands of the farmers and that they should be enabled to lead the exercise on their own. Naturally, viability of a CSB requires high willingness and active participation from the farmers in order for them to be run independently by the community in the long-term.

Having the possibility to run their own CSB has allowed the five communities to independently lead strategies to face climate change as an alternative to waiting for Government aid. The CSBs additionally facilitated the possibility of promoting the conservation of a high diversity of seed varieties through activities that are already carried out by local farmers.

The outcomes derived from this exercise was collated in a report that is now available on the NUS community website. All lessons learned and recommendations in the report are based solely on local experience and entirely represent farmers’ own opinions.

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