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From Collection to Cultivation


Post-doctoral project: Ryan Nehring (project member, 2020–2022)

Seed conservation has historically focused on ex-situ practices, or isolating germplasm from their natural conditions for long-term preservation. This approach allows for seeds to be highly mobile, catalogued, and controlled. However, ex-situ seed conservation often excludes farmer participation and many tropical plants that cannot survive ex situ conditions. In this project, an alternative approach of a participatory in-situ seed conservation project focuses on a participatory seed bank in Brazil called the “living seed bank”. The living seed bank is a participatory project physically located at the Vegetables Research Center of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) just outside of the national capital Brasilia. Researchers at the centre developed the living seed bank to serve as a genetic hub where non-conventional tropical food crops are collected from and shared with different small-scale farmers and social movements in Brazil. The aim is to provide an open source seed bank that can both capture farmer crop improvements and revitalise underutilised crops by sharing them within the ever-expanding network. 

This project will use the case of Embrapa’s living seed bank to better understand interrelated roles of marginalised ecologies, communities, and crops in seed conservation. A focus on revitalising historically underutilised tropical food crops will underscore the nutritional, cultural, and environmental value of crop diversity at multiple scales. The living seed bank is ideally situated at the nexus of crop collection and cultivation, while simultaneously revealing the importance of public and participatory research for conserving crops through in-situ practices. It offers a potential alternative of seed conservation for tropical ecologies where farmers are both active promotors and beneficiaries of crop diversity.  

Keywords: in-situ seed conservation, participatory research, tropical agriculture, public research