Fundación Semillas De Vida: Reappropriating Seeds Into the Hands of Peasants

Life starts with a seed, whether it’s a human or a plant. This fact isn’t lost on Fundación Semillas de Vida (Seeds of Life, in Spanish), a Mexico-based non-profit organization uniting different stakeholders from the countryside and the city to foster sustainable agriculture and a healthy diverse food system. At the core of their model are seeds — they believe that food quality, as well as the health of ecosystems, depend on seeds and the well-being of the farmers that produce them. Together with improving seed management, Semillas de Vida promotes capacity-building strategies for peasants to move away from using synthetic fertilizers and dangerous agrochemicals.

Mexico is an ultra-diverse country with an ancient history, and seeds have always been a central part of the story. For centuries, farmers have been cultivating the country’s 100 edible landrace species in milpas, a traditional polyculture practice. Based on the agronomy of Indigenous Peoples, the milpa system is used to produce crops of maize, beans, and squash without employing artificial pesticides and artificial fertilizers. These three plants are the base but each milpa can contain up till 60 species growing together in a harmonic ecosystem. This ancient wisdom has gotten lost in key areas around Mexico, as models of industrialization and the push for GMOs ignore the important role peasants have long played in preserving and promoting healthy food systems. And yet, many of these crops are food staples around the world — so Mexico can serve as a learning hub, and its lessons can be replicated around the world.

photo by Fundación Semillas de Vida

Semillas de Vida is based on uplifting Mexican peasants’ work, which has been key in developing the impressive adaptability of many of these species. Seed agrobiodversity cannot be separated from the physical environment, society, and culture where it has been developed — local knowledge is an intrinsic part of Semillas de Vida’s work. To this end, all of Semillas de Vida’s activities are based on strengthening in-situ conservation: strengthening seeds in the part of the world they came from.

In order to support their conservation and diversification of maize seeds in the communities, Semillas de Vida has developed a three-pronged approach: organizing workshops, seed fairs, and in-situ conservation projects where, parting from cultural dialogue and knowledge exchange, the participants learn, and teach, about the advantages of sustainable agriculture, recover long-lost practices and knowledges, and can exchange their seeds with peasants from other parts of the country; participating in policymaking and legal processes that protect small-scale agriculture, native seed landraces and the right to healthy food against threats such as seed privatization, introduction of GMO seeds, and legislation on pesticides; and participating in Mexican and foreign research projects about native maize varieties, participatory seed improvement, and implementing an open and collaborative seed innovation system.

History has already proven that Semillas de Vida works. The evidence is in the milpas: each new plant is born of a seed from the last year’s harvest. As our world becomes increasingly susceptible to extreme climatic conditions, this form of harvesting ensures that the seed genetic information will be the most adapted for the next year’s harvest. In turn, species of maize have naturally evolved to resist both more and less water, to synthesize their own nitrogen, and to increase their quantity of certain nutrients. From a seed, a new life can always be born.

Learn more about Semillas De Vida.

Fundacion Semillas De Vida

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