International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

International Workshop on Community Seed Banks


FAO, ROMEClose to 100 farmers, experts, academics, plant breeders and scientists from different regions of the world gathered at FAO to exchange differing experiences between Community Seeds Banks in “the global South” and those in “the global West.” Community Seed Banks (CSBs) play a critical role in local food security, preserving traditional farming knowledge and empowering local communities.

“You are the treasure and the repository of traditional knowledge, research and novelty in agriculture,” said René Castro-Salazar, Assistant Director-General for Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department of the FAO, in his opening remarks at the International Workshop on CSBs, co-organized by the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resource for Food and Agriculture, Bioversity International and the Italian Seeds Network Rete Semi Rurali. “We are here to exchange experiences on how local farmers can contribute to feeding the world.”

CSBs serve to safeguard local crop varieties and to secure the supply of seeds for local communities, and have been in existence for decades in different forms, particularly in developing countries. Projects supported through the FAO’s Benefit-sharing Fund of the International Treaty also include the development and management of CSBs in developing countries around the world [Map of Projects Windows 2 - Map of Projects Windows 3].

Most CSB case studies and analyses carried out in recent years have focussed primarily on developing countries, but very little has been discussed about those in more developed countries such as those in Europe.

The “DIVERSIFOOD” Project, funded by the European Union, maps over 85 CSBs in 20 European countries, collecting and comparing their history, functions and experiences. It aims to develop new approaches to biodiversity management, plant breeding and promoting more diverse and healthy food products.

Conserving agricultural biodiversity, using it in a sustainable manner and protecting the rights of smallholder farmers were clear commonalities amongst the CSB representatives gathered at the Workshop. All three of these topics are also key issues covered by the International Treaty under its Articles 5, 6 and 9, respectively.

One apparent difference between the CSBs from the global South and the global West is that the former ‘communities’ are defined by their geographic location, whereas the latter are often more ‘communities of practice’ without necessarily sharing national identities.

The countries represented by the Workshop participants included Belgium, Bolivia, China, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Norway, Spain, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe, among others.

The outcomes of this International Workshop on Community Seed Banks will be presented at a side event during the Seventh Governing Body of the ITPGRFA in Kigali, Rwanda in October 2017, and will feed into a report to be published by the DIVERSIFOOD Project in 2018.

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