Smallholder farmers

Native seeds can nourish peace


Country, region:
June 2018 – December 2019
18 seed networks with 822 seed keepers, of which 281 are women
Total project budget:
CHF 388,463


The project supports seed networks to produce traditional seeds for self-sufficiency and local marketing. The networks also carry out advocacy actions against transgenic seeds. They also advocate food sovereignty and biodiversity at the political level.

“The unfair land ownership situation was one of the most complex issues in the Colombian peace negotiations,” says Walquíria Pérez of SWISSAID Colombia. This is hardly surprising, since 10% of landowners own 82% of the productive land. More than half of the cultivated area is used for industrial farming. The government promotes monocultures, genetically modified and agrochemical products and encourages the establishment of agro-multinationals in the country.

Disadvantaged smallholder farmers and prohibited seeds

Meanwhile, small farmers produce more than 60 percent of the food eaten in the country on just five percent of the agricultural land – without being able to count on state support. “It is true that the Ministry of Agriculture passed a resolution at the end of 2017 providing for a compromise that should benefit small farming families,” explains Walquíria Pérez. “But the content of the resolution must urgently be raised to the level of legislation.”

All this will inevitably have consequences: Colombia is being forced to import more and more food. In addition, what particularly worries Walquíria Pérez is that some traditional corn was recently found to be contaminated with a genetically modified variety. Native seeds are adapted to local conditions and are thus prepared for climate change. “But the government does not understand the importance of protecting native varieties,” Walquíria Pérez said. What is more: there is a law restricting the distribution of local seeds.

The “Semillas de Identidad” campaign promotes the exchange and marketing of local seeds

Three key players discuss at a forum

Despite the practical difficulties, Colombia has a large number of local organisations and farmers who preserve indigenous seeds. SWISSAID has joined together with other non-governmental organisations and universities to form the “Semillas de Identidad” (Seeds of Identity) campaign, which is giving the seed networks more of a voice. The campaign promotes the exchange and marketing of local seeds and the construction of seed banks – which makes smallholder farmers more independent and improves their income. They also gain greater food sovereignty.

To promote dialogue between the grassroots and the government, “Semillas de Identidad” has organised several events. The publication of a paper setting out political demands and the formation of an alliance of various organisations engaged in political lobbying (SWISSAID, HEKS, indigenous organisations, farmers’ organisations, peace organisations, universities) together constituted an important step. “Now it is a matter of being recognised and heard as a political alliance,” says Walquíria Pérez. To strengthen the local seeds that are not only vital for the survival of Colombia’s many small farmers – but that also contribute to peace in the country.