The Seed Sovereignty Programme is an ambitious 3-year venture to develop a resilient, agroecological seed system across the UK and Ireland. The Gaia Foundation is working closely with actors across the existing seed movement - including the Soil Association, the Organic Research Centre, the Irish Seed Savers Association, the Seed Cooperative and the Landworkers Alliance - and supporting new and emerging projects across the diverse landscapes of the British Isles. This is the first large-scale collaborative effort of its kind in the UK and Ireland.
With genetic and agro-biodiversity as its central focus, the programme is underpinned by the principles of seed and food sovereignty - the right to locally adapted seed, available to all. The programme will support the broad range of agro-ecological farming operations that exist, incorporating all seed grown within these systems. It will encourage skill sharing, networking and collaboration across the UK seed movement, creating a more cohesive and connected counter force to the pressures of industrial agriculture, and the uncertainty ahead as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.
The programme aims to:
Strengthen existing and establish new regional networks and seed co-operatives through the creation of Regional Hubs, peer-to-peer learning exchanges, networking and the creation of a central online space.
Support farmers and growers to develop their skills and have access to equipment and information via on-farm training in seed production, saving and storage. There will be on-farm variety trials, participatory plant breeding and a seed facilitation fund to give small grants to seed projects needing support.
Foster a more supportive environment for a biodiverse and ecologically sustainable seed system to thrive by engaging the next generation of farmers and growers, creating a public-awareness and education campaign and engaging key decision-makers at policy level.
The idea for the programme emerged following the Great Seed Festival in 2014, which, coordinated by The Gaia Foundation, ‘celebrated the seeds that feed us’ by bringing together a multitude of actors from across the seed movement over one October weekend in central London. With smaller sister festivals and events round the UK, it tapped into a thriving but largely disparate network of committed seed savers and activists from Scotland to Cornwall, Ireland to Wales. Through coordinating the Festival it became apparent that whilst there were a great number of initiatives addressing issues around food – food poverty, waste, community growing schemes, etc – there was relatively little being done in the UK to protect seed, revive seed knowledge and ensure the availability of good quality, organic seed for both commercial and small scale growers.
The shape of the programme itself has been influenced by the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security led by USC Canada and now in its sixth year. The Canadian programme reaches from coast to coast and includes participatory plant breeding, support for local seed libraries, training and knowledge exchange, granting to scale up regional seed production, and a national seed trialing program. It has been hugely successful and whilst there will be a number of difference with the UK and Ireland programme, it will benefit greatly from this experience.
Why is it so critical?
Almost everything we eat comes from a seed. We cannot have food security without seed security and yet, the importance of seed goes largely unnoticed. Around the world, seed diversity is threatened with 75% of plant genetic diversity lost since the 1990s. Of the 80,000 edible species available for food production, only 150 are currently grown.
Biodiversity is critical for ensuring a secure and sustainable food system. At a time of climate crisis, there has never been greater urgency to re-build global seed diversity. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: “Plant genetic diversity is ... one of the central preconditions for food security. It ... provides the genetic traits required to address crop pests, diseases and changing climate conditions”. Diversity in plants also gives us a range of options for raising the healthiest and most productive crops. No matter what changes happen in our food system, we will always be able to adapt if we have enough genetic diversity.