Farmer seed systems: A critical contribution to food sovereignty and farmers’ rights

July 22, 2020

Farmer seed systems are a critical contribution to food sovereignty and farmers' rights. Isidora Garcia, a woman farmer, stands in a sloped field of maize. She smiles to the camera.

Farmer seed systems are a critical contribution to food sovereignty and farmers’ rights. Farmers know that good food comes from good seeds. Since crop domestication began over 10,000 years ago, there have been farmer seed systems. It has been farmers who have produced seeds and created and conserved the incredible crop diversity that most of the world relies on today. Most Indigenous and rural communities in the Global South rely on their own sources of seeds year after year.

However, farmers’ varieties have become increasingly vulnerable due to climate change, loss of small farms, market pressures, and seed privatization. As a result, farming communities have seen their local seed systems eroded, with grave repercussions on food production. Meanwhile, most commercial seeds are not well adapted to the diverse and often marginalized conditions of smallholder farms and often require the use of expensive agrochemicals that are fossil fuel-intensive and damaging to ecosystems and human health.


How do farmers’ seed systems contribute to food sovereignty and farmers’ rights?

To address these challenges, SeedChange supports actions by communities to produce, save, exchange, and sell locally-adapted and preferred seeds, also called farmers’ seeds. Regulatory frameworks and policies often favour the commercial seed actors and ignore farmers’ seeds, thus impeding the scale-up of this work. Based on the experiences of SeedChange partners in 11 countries, this document outlines the importance of farmer-led solutions including the conservation of traditional varieties, the participatory development of new varieties through selection and breeding, and ways to support farmers exchanging and selling their seeds. We advocate for greater support and recognition of farmers’ seed systems in order to strengthen seed security, food sovereignty and farmers’ rights.

This document begins with a description of how farmers’ seed systems and formal systems interact. Then we discuss some of the challenges facing farmers’ seed systems including climate change, the private ownership of seeds, the difficulty of registration and certification for farmers’ seeds, and the role of international treaties on national laws and the impacts they have on farmers’ rights. Fortunately, the farmers that SeedChange works with have solutions to these problems and are building resilient food systems with farmer’s seeds at the core of their work. In the second section, we present some of the key farmer-led solutions they are using and conclude with several recommendations that would help support the work that these farmers are engaging in around the world.

Download the Farmers’ seed systems report