Seedbanks and farmer-led experimentation enhance local food sovereignty and climate change resiliency in rural Nicaragua.

Seedbanks are important reservoirs of genetic diversity that help subsistance farming communities secure their supply of quality, locally-adapted seed. This in turn means that they do not depend on imported seed–often genetically modified–and they can assure their own food supply in times of crisis.

As part of its Food Security and Sovereignty in Las Segovias, Nicaragua project, CAN and its partner PRODECOOP, a local cooperative bringing together over 2300 smallholder coffee farming families, established seven community seedbanks in 2011. The seedbanks have grown and strengthened their capacity and now provide corn and bean seed every year to over 500 farmers, 35% of whom are women. The seedbanks are run by cooperative seedbank commissions, whose job it is to improve seed production for the banks. In the spring of 2015, the seven commissions proposed taking the seedbanks to a new level by promoting farmer-led experimentation with different seed varieties in order to find the varieties that are the most resilient to climate change, droughts, and flooding, and other extreme or unstable conditions. This is critical to ensuring the availability of staple foods during crisis periods.

The experimentation was carried out in the summer and fall of 2015. In October, a project advisory team visited the rural municipalities where the seedbanks and seed production are taking place. They saw 40 seed production plots with 22 varieties of corn and beans in production, as well as four additional corn varieties adapted to specific micro-regions. The team also met with farmer-experimenters in two municipalities (San Lucas and Jalapa) who are now managing their own experimentation with seeds and diversified crops. The seedbanks have also played a critical role in fomenting the exchange of different seed varieties among the different cooperatives, enabling farmers to experiment with more varieties in different micro-regions in the search for the most resilient varieties for each place. In some cases, this has led to the recuperation of seed varieties that had previously been lost from certain municipalities, and that are now being cultivated again. One example is the Olotillo corn variety in San Lucas municipality, which farmers have said “they are in love with” because of its high performance even in the severe drought of the last two years. Another positive experience was observed in Jalapa, where the farmer-led experimentation organized by the local cooperative seedbank commission has resulted in farmers depending less on agrochemicals, since they have found seed varieties that are adapted to and thrive without chemicals in their local environment.

Small-scale farmers are facing challenges related to climate change impact and market influences that threaten their food security and food sovereignty. This situation has led the seedbank commissions and cooperatives in Las Segovias to find reasons and mechanisms to consolidate their existence and deepen the search for solutions. Knowledge exchanges are in process and farmer-led experimentation is giving hope.