Seed systems

In order to understand and describe how local systems implementing community management of diversity work, one needs to understand more broadly how seeds are produced, exchanged and sold and how varieties are created and protected.

“Seed systems” is the collective name for the mechanisms through which farmers obtain seeds and thanks to which the quality of these seeds is guaranteed. 

Seed systems encompass a range of interconnected activities: starting with the management of genetic resources, research and breeding, including the multiplication of the seed, its marketing and distribution and coming to fruition with use by farmers.  More “informal” solutions for accessing seeds (be it reusing own seed on the farm or exchanging seed with neighbors) also fall within the definition of seed systems and need to be acknowledged in both theory and practice.

Formal and informal seed systems, as they are often referred to, differ in the way they use and conserve genetic resources. Formal systems tend to produce uniform varieties through classical genetic improvement, while informal ones tend to generate and conserve materials that are less uniform and more adapted to local conditions (even though some modern varieties may have been acquired from the formal system).

The effect of policies on seed systems depends on the political environment and its underlying views and objectives. For example, if the goal is to support and protect the cultural identity of communities, interventions will tend to focus on strengthening informal seed systems and their local mechanisms; if, on the other hand, the aim is to promote the marketing of seeds, interventions will tend to strengthen the formal seed system with its uniform varieties.

Supporting sustainable agriculture and promoting food security can be attempted with strategies and interventions directed at either the formal or the informal systems, or both, depending on the environmental and political context.

What is important, is to be aware that seed systems can be subject to different and sometimes conflicting pressures linked to differing objectives and political motivations.

Seed systems