Recognizing Community Seed Bank for Food Security, Seed Sovereignty and Farmers’ Rights, and Enhancing Smallholder’s Resilience

16th World Social Forum (WSF) was organized in Kathmandu, Nepal from February 15 to 19, 2024. WSF is an inclusive platform for individuals and groups to exchange thoughts, and experiences, and organize assemblies to build the collective strength of people’s movements and civil society organization worldwide with a pledge of “Another world is possible” envisioning the sustainability, peace, co-existence, equality and equity. The WSF 2024 started with an opening ceremony on February 15 in Khula Manch. From 16th to 18th, thematic panels and various self-organized events and side-events were held covering thirteen different thematic areas. Each day began with the thematic panels, followed by self-organized activities in the primary venue i.e., Bhrikutimandap  and side venue on walking distance such as Ratna Rajya Campus, Nepal Law Campus, Nepal Tourism Board, Rastriya Sabha Griha.

On 17th, the third day of the World Social Forum (WSF2024), Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) and Community Seed Banks Association of Nepal (CSBAN) organized a side event on community seed banks in collaboration with Welthungerhilfe (WHH) and Oxfam Nepal. The event aimed to share Nepal’s learnings and experiences on the role and contribution of community seed banks (CSBs) on agricultural biodiversity conservation, building community resilience to climate change, and promoting farmers’ rights send seed sovereignty. The event was attended by nearly 100 participants associated with national and international development agencies, civil society organizations, academicians, and farming communities.

Mr. Pitambar Shrestha, delivering a keynote speech on community seed bank. Photo: Sambat Ranabhat, LI-BIRD

The event commenced with a welcome address and introduction to the event, presenters, moderator, and panelists by Anita Gautam from LI-BIRD. Following this, Mr. Dilli Paudel of Shivagunj CSB, Jhapa shared his experiences of operating CSB including the establishment of a diversity block of rice, production of 75 metric tons of seeds of different rice varieties on average, and conservation of 115 local varieties of six crop species as their regular activities. Similarly, as a result of the collaborative effort of the Shivagunj CSB and LI-BIRD, a rare local aromatic rice variety ‘Kalonuniya’ has been registered at the National Seed Board and the variety has become common in Jhapa district. Subsequently, Mr. Pitambar Shrestha highlighted the multiple functions and services of CSB, particularly emphasizing on-farm conservation of local crop diversity, food security, farmers’ rights, and seed sovereignty. He concluded his presentation by pointing out the two major challenges of CSBs in Nepal such as the lack of understanding on its importance among policymakers and development agencies, and the absence of a regulatory body.

Participants at the event. Photo: Sambat Ranabhat, LI-BIRD

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Devendra Gauchan (Honorable research fellow, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT). The panelists included Mr. Shakeb Nabi, Country Director, Welthungerhilfe (WHH); Ms. Parbati Bhandari, Chairperson, CSBAN; Dr. Hari Bahadur K.C, Director General, Department of Agriculture (DoA); Mr. Prakash Kafle, Thematic Lead – Resilience & Climate Justice, Oxfam in Nepal; and Mr. Bharat Bhandari, Executive Director, LI-BIRD. 

Dr. Hari Bahadur K.C. highlighted the importance of promoting and conserving local seed varieties, especially linking this with climate change adaptation and potential disasters. He appreciated the contribution of CSBs on conservation efforts and emphasized the need of integrating community seed banks into policy frameworks, noting in progress federal agriculture bill and, local and provincial agricultural strategies and plans. Similarly, Mr. Bharat Bhandari, highlighted LI-BIRD’s substantial contributions to establish and strengthen CSBs in Nepal and the importance for farming communities and beyond including conserving plant genetic resources and protecting associated traditional knowledge. He further stressed the need of seeing CSBs beyond seeds as there are enough evidences of empowerment, climate change adaption, responding crisis and supporting agroecology. He concluded that CSB is one of the local approaches that fits well in every programme to address multiple challenges that we are facing while implementing initiatives such as right to food and food sovereignty, agro biodiversity conservation, climate change adaption, and agroecology.

Mr. Sakib Nabi emphasized the profound impact of climate change on Nepal’s seed system, advocating for a shift towards promoting community seed banks. He drew the attention of the forum to the importance for establishing and strengthening CSBs that could serve as a central hub for both income generation and sustainable conservation and use of genetic resources thereby, enhancing food security and seed sovereignty in the region. Representing CSBAN, Mrs. Parbati shared her transformative journey and the changes she witnessed during the establishment of her CSB. She pointed out the role of CSBs in empowering women through capacity enhancement, conservation, increased access to quality seeds, and income generation activities.  Similarly, Mr. Prakash Kafle underlined that CSBs can go beyond mere local seed conservation and build capital through seed business thereby contributing to the sustainability of agriculture and food security.

Participant observing LI-BIRD’s publications at the event. Photo: Sambat Ranabhat, LI-BIRD.

Following the panel discussion, the Q&N sessions brought different insights such as the methods of insuring seed quality in CSBs, its operational mechanism, and sustainability. Dr. Balaram Thapa, Senior Advisor of LI-BIRD highlighted the contrasting approaches in conservation and policy making in his closing remarks. He expressed that while conservation starts at the grassroots level, policy formulation follows a top-down approach and stressed the necessity of harmonizing these divergent approaches and fostering collaboration among all.

Display of seeds at the event. Photo: Niranjan Pudasaini, LI-BIRD

Overall, the event was successful in bringing the insightful conversation of CSB’s role in food and nutrition security, seed sovereignty and farmer’s rights, climate change adaptation, and policy and funding issues for up-scaling and sustainability. At last, Dr. Gauchan summed up with a discussion on possible steps to be taken by the Government of Nepal (GoN), civil society organizations, and development partners to scale up and mainstream the community seed bank approach.

Apart from this event, LI-BIRD represented as a panelist in one of the dialogues organized by Alliance 2015, WHH Nepal and Concern Worldwide Bangladesh focusing on “Promoting Evidence-Informed and Communities-led Climate Action: Insights from Bangladesh, Kenya and Nepal”. Mr. Laxman Khatri, Programme Operations Director and Climate Change Expert, LI-BIRD shared LI-BIRD’s approaches and strategies to promoting agroecological and climate-resilient agriculture including CSB approach. In addition, LI-BIRD also joined hands with the National Farmers Group Federation (NFGF), Alliance of Agriculture for Food, and Right to Food Network Nepal to show its commitment to building a resilient, sustainable, and inclusive food system by promoting nature friendly solutions and prioritizing local resources and institutions for sustainable development.