Action on biodiversity loss starts with seeds

Lauren Baker, Director of Programs, Global Alliance for the Future of Food


“We must recognize the remarkable intelligence and power of the seed — it perpetuates the species, preserves its diversity, ensures its resilience in the face of adversity. This is the basis of biological diversity — biological resilience is in the diversity of the genes.” Abdou Tenkouano, The West and Central Africa Council for Agricultural Research and Development

In February, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Working Group met in Rome — paving the way for global discussion and commitments for action on biodiversity, which are taking place in China towards the end of this year. The World Biodiversity Forum also met in Davos. Just a few months into 2020 – the “Super Year for Nature” – Abdou’s comments above should inspire us to, well, pause.

As accelerating climate change and biodiversity loss threaten life on this planet, our home, we find ourselves at an urgent crossroads. We need food systems transformation — from industrial food systems to sustainable and diverse food systems – and resilient seed systems are at the heart of this transformation. Seeds are central to a future of food that is renewable, resilient, equitable, diverse, healthy, inclusive, and interconnected.

Yet, until now, seeds have not played a central role in the predominant global narratives about action on biodiversity.

Since 2016, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food has convened a diverse group of seed systems actors to develop a Shared Action Framework for Resilient Seed Systems. The process started in 2016 with a compendium of perspectives on resilient seed systems, followed by a strategic convening of over 90 people – farmers, Indigenous Peoples, policymakers, the private sector, researchers, donors, as well as diverse organizations and institutions – in Oaxaca, Mexico. Together, the group drafted the Shared Action Framework.

The Shared Action Framework is a strategic guide for diverse stakeholders to take a holistic, collaborative approach to protecting and enhancing the world’s seed systems. Farmers, farmers associations, Indigenous Peoples groups, civil society organizations, research institutions, government, policymakers, the private sector, and donors came together to create this framework.

This diverse network of actors mobilized around common principles, a narrative, and action-oriented priorities. In consultation with a range of agricultural biodiversity and seed experts, nine broad themes were identified for further exploration and to guide the development of a Shared Action Framework:

1. Seeds and agroecological food systems
2. Climate change and agroecology/agricultural biodiversity
3. Seed legislation and policy
4. Farmers’ rights
5. Networks and linkages
6. Innovation and knowledge exchange
7. Intellectual property rights, open-source seed systems, and other approaches
8. Landscape and evolutionary approaches
9. Science and research for resilient seed systems

With that, this new Framework (also available in Spanish!) recognizes that the real value of resilient seed systems goes far, far beyond any economic measure. Resilient seed systems are connected to diverse cultural and culinary traditions, health and well-being, food sovereignty, quality nutrition, agroecological landscapes, and sustainable local economies, and more.

Lim Li Ching from the Third World Network says it best: “A resilient seed system is one that is based on agricultural biodiversity and local seed diversity, and is the basis of diversified agroecological systems. Its resilience is in terms of environmental and climate resilience, social resilience, and economic resilience. A resilient seed system is connected to diverse cultural and culinary traditions, and promotes diet diversity and health.”

Next steps
The Shared Action Framework recognizes ongoing action and shared priorities across policy and advocacy, research and education, platforms and alliances, communications and financing. Crucially, its implementation requires the collaboration of and distributed ownership by diverse actors and organizations committed to enhancing resilient seed systems. Trust and open dialogue across all actors engaged in the seed system is essential to advancing the application of this framework and delivering a future of food that is sustainable, equitable and resilient. Will you join us and help transform the future of food?

For more information on the Shared Action Framework, please contact lauren@futureoffood.org.