Seed swap in Colombia promotes traditional knowledge and food sovereignty Global Voices Français

Men and women exchange seeds in Silvia (Cauca). Photo by Giovanna Landazabal, used with permission.

Mónica Solarte is an agronomist from the Polindar indigenous people, who lives in the municipality of Totoro, 30 kilometers from Popayán, in Cauca, southern Colombia. The Polindar Indigenous Nation was recognized as such in 2014.

Solarte is a high school teacher and is part of a project called “Tastes and Knowledge” of the Polindara, which encourages the consumption of local foods such as arracacha tubers, sweet potatoes and hid beans.

For the Polindara, agroecology ensures the availability of healthy food for consumption, preserves its traditional production systems and ensures the conservation of biological diversity through its orchards.

In Colombia — a country which, because of imports, is increasingly losing its food sovereignty — the exchange of indigenous seeds makes it possible to recover and preserve ancestral knowledge. It is also a form of peasant and indigenous resistance that raises awareness of the importance of consuming food produced locally by farmers.

In the community of Solarte, people plant small amounts of seeds which they also use to barter rather than sell. In addition to contributing to the subsistence of the community, “the knowledge of the seeds that we collect concerns gastronomy, ethnobotany and ethno-veterinary medicine, our own technology and agriculture”, explains Solarte.

There are two types of gardens in his community: the vegetable garden located next to the house, where people plant medicinal plants and fruit trees (such as arracacha, sweet potato and coriander), grown in small quantities for daily consumption throughout the year; and the will cement — an orchard which is cultivated once a year, where there are mixed crops of maize, beans, peas, potatoes and “ulluco”.

In September 2021, Solarte participated in the seed exchange organized by the Las Delicias Botanical Garden Association, led by the Misak Indigenous people of Silvia (Cauca). She believes in the need to preserve seeds, telling Global Voices that “if the farmer does not consume or cannot sell the seed, then it is not planted and therefore it is lost along with the knowledge associated with the seed.”

This meeting was part of two projects led by the Las Delicias Botanical Garden: the “Guardians of the Earth” project, funded by Cultural Survival; and “A Ciencia Cierta” (“The True Knowledge”), a competition won by the Las Delicias Botanical Garden.

Different species of potatoes and corn, among other foods, are exchanged in barters, seeking to recover traditional consumption patterns. Photo by Giovanna Landazabal, used with permission.

Save the seeds

Solarte accepted the invitation of Giovanna Landazabal, biologist from the National University and one of the collaborators and organizers of the event, who points out that one of the objectives of this meeting is to bring together organizations, guardians and seed guardians so that they share their experiences related to their defense and preservation.

Another objective was to publicize the Botanical Garden Las Delicias and its own economic and governance project, the recovery of ancestral practices and the defense of the territory. For this reason, one of the activities was to visit the family orchards and the “seed house”. (house of the seedlings), where various seeds are kept.

The Misak people would gather for the exchange of seeds, which involves ancestral knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation. Photo by Giovanna Landazabal, used with permission.

“This was important to the seed keeper Julio Guauña from the Puracé seed house (Cauca) to participate in this meeting. He is a guardian who tries to save and recover native seeds, which have brought about a dozen varieties of potato. Some of them are also kept by the seed keeper and Mama Misak Cayetana Almendra (…)”, adds Landazabal.

With its seed house, the Botanical Garden aims to conserve the diversity of potatoes, recovering ullucos, tubers and other species once consumed and important in the territory.

Clara Sierra, of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, explains that her ministry is developing the “True Science for Local Development” program, which recognizes and supports the projects of community organizations in the country.

“As at the heart of its strategy, this program emphasizes the processes of social appropriation of knowledge through science, technology and innovation. This strategy involves the articulation of local and ancestral knowledge with academic knowledge to generate new knowledge in specific contexts, thus fulfilling its objective of strengthening community management and development to achieve local change,” adds Sierra.

Sierra points out that plant agroecology and conservation contribute to the food sovereignty of peoples and recover ancestral knowledge that guarantees the well-being of communities.

“VScommunities will prioritize tHe uses indigenous seeds which each time provide well-being. The exchange between the communities and the adaptive benefits will highlight the efforts of the communities to defend the use of the seeds in each territory”, underlines Sierra.

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