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Roots of Resilience: Indigenous Seed Banks and the Future of Agriculture

Indigenous communities around the world, from the Maya Achi people in Guatemala to the Cherokee Nation in the United States, are experiencing a renaissance in traditional agricultural practices. This resurgence is not merely a return to ancient farming methods but a vital movement to preserve culture, boost nutrition, and protect the environment.


In the central highlands of Guatemala, the Qachuu Aloom seed bank stands as a testament to the resilience of Indigenous communities. Filled with earthenware cylinders containing seeds of corn, amaranth, and other crops almost lost during Guatemala's decades-long civil war, this seed bank is more than a repository; it's a symbol of cultural revival.


Preserving Heritage and Enhancing Nutrition


The Cherokee Nation Seed Bank in the U.S. is another focal point of hope and heritage. Since 2005, the tribe has focused on finding and cultivating crops lost during the forced relocation in the 1830s. Preserving over 100 different kinds of seeds, the Cherokee Nation distributed close to 10,000 packages of seeds to growers across the U.S. last year. These seeds are not just about agriculture; they're a tangible connection to heritage, used in ceremonies, and shared to revive traditions.


Colombian scientist Nora Castañeda-Álvarez, with the Seeds for Resilience project, emphasizes that traditional varieties can be more nutritious than other breeds. This is a vital aspect in Indigenous communities, where access to healthy food plays a crucial role in health disparities, including lower life expectancy and higher rates of obesity and diabetes.


A Toolbox for Climate Change


As climate change threatens global food security, traditional seeds may hold the key to adaptation and resilience. Ebrahim Jahanshiri, program director at Crops For the Future, highlights that local crop varieties are key to boosting food security as climate changes. These underutilized crops, grown in marginal conditions, could be the solution to developing adaptable and sustainable food systems.


A Global Movement


The importance of Indigenous food systems and regenerative agriculture is increasingly recognized globally. Indigenous communities safeguard 25% of the land and 80% of the world's biodiversity. The UN's acknowledgment of these practices at the Food Systems Summit is a testament to their global significance.


From Guatemala to Oklahoma, communities are tackling multiple challenges by saving seeds of traditional agricultural crops. These efforts form part of a broader movement to revive ancient environmental knowledge that sustained agricultural communities for centuries.


The dream of Rosalia Asig Cho, the coordinator of Qachuu Aloom, is to achieve the strengthening and consolidation of an organization that watches over the well-being of its people, especially women and their families. The preservation of seeds is closely linked to the success of Indigenous communities, and the efforts of seed banks like Qachuu Aloom and the Cherokee Nation Seed Bank are small yet powerful steps towards a future where heritage, nutrition, and environmental stewardship are intertwined.




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