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The Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience

Foreword

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Increasing the availability of agrobiodiversity will become more and more important, not only in the pursuit of improved crop performance, but also in the context of adaptation to climate change, greater resilience, improved nutrition, maintaining the socio-economic balance of farming communities, and the rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems.

— Emile Frison and Toby Hodgkin

We couldn’t agree more. The Global Alliance for the Future of Food is a strategic network of independent foundations with divergent views and perspectives; yet when it comes to the preservation, maintenance, and enhancement of agricultural biodiversity, the Global Alliance believes that diverse and robust seed systems are central to sustainable food systems that are renewable, resilient, equitable, diverse, healthy, and interconnected. We also believe that there is an urgency to supporting community based and farmer managed seed systems in order to protect and enhance seed diversity.

“The Global Alliance believes that diverse and robust seed systems are central to sustainable food systems that are renewable, resilient, equitable, diverse, healthy, and interconnected.”

Because of the centrality of resilient seed systems to our collective future of food, and because of the urgency to attend to the threats currently placed upon them, the Global Alliance commissioned an opportunities report, written by Emile Frison and Toby Hodgkin, and a dozen associated commentaries written by diverse leaders in the field from across the globe. The opportunities report and commentaries constitute The Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience, which we are excited to release to a broad array of stakeholders, from private enterprise to policy makers to farmers and funders.

This compendium captures a rich diversity of perspectives related to seed systems and agricultural biodiversity, reflecting current research and firsthand experience in the field. This includes plant breeders, seed companies, farmers, academics, foundation staff, and many others with the associated disparities of opinion. Seed systems are a vast area of exploration and are dusted with strong beliefs and sometimes firmly held philosophies. We have encouraged—and look forward to further exploring—this diversity.

“Community based seed systems are connected to diverse cultural and culinary traditions, health and wellness, resilient agroecological landscapes, and sustainable local economies.”

But while the contributors and authors of this report come with different world views, have diverse perspectives, and offer differing opinions, there is consensus that the value of resilient and diverse seed systems goes far beyond any economic measure: community based seed systems are connected to diverse cultural and culinary traditions, health and wellness, resilient agroecological landscapes, and sustainable local economies. What’s more, maintaining and enhancing agricultural biodiversity is critical in light of global challenges such as climate change and food and nutrition security.

To do so, however, we must overcome a number of significant hurdles. Seed diversity is being eroded and community based seed systems, representing tremendous complexity, are under threat. Farmers do not have adequate representation within the international governance systems that regulate seeds. Communities are feeling the negative impacts of the increasing privatization of seeds. The current intellectual property regime restricts traditional and local seed saving practices. Moreover, the world of farmer seed systems and the world of the more formal seed establishment too often remain in their own orbits hampering the potential of co-creating solutions and coming together as positive participants where they have a common agenda. When seed systems are disconnected from farmers—and vice versa—farmers are unable to contribute to protecting and enhancing agricultural biodiversity—an important role they have historically played.

And thus we sit at a crossroads. This is a historic moment for seed systems.

We have a number of seemingly overwhelming challenges, and yet from what we learn from our colleagues, whose voices you will hear in this compendium, there is reason for hope if we collectively embrace the recommendations and positive pathways forward that they map for us.

The contributors to the compendium offer both thoughtful and challenging recommendations for conserving and enhancing agricultural biodiversity, including:

“We invite all stakeholders to listen to the voices in The Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience, to appreciate the urgency of action, and to lend your needed contribution to this most essential issue at the foundation of sustainable food systems: seeds.”

  • developing a coordinated advocacy strategy in support of community based seed systems;
  • providing greater resources and support to community based seed systems; and
  • strengthening the central role that women and Indigenous Peoples play in agricultural biodiversity.

In the coming months, the members of the Global Alliance will be exploring how to move these ideas forward, especially as they relate to the imperative to continue to research and document the importance of community based seed systems, to support seed leaders to strategically engage in advocacy, and to leverage additional funding for community based seed systems.

It will, however, require significant resources to adequately and effectively support this important work on agricultural biodiversity—going well beyond philanthropy. We invite all stakeholders to listen to the voices in The Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience, to appreciate the urgency of action, and to lend your needed contribution to this most essential issue at the foundation of sustainable food systems: seeds.

Headshot: Ruth Richardson
Signature: Ruth Richardson
Ruth Richardson
Executive Director, Global Alliance for the Future of Food