To mark our 25th anniversary this year, we’ve started a new series that combines reflections on our history with the popular “Throwback Thursday” (#TBT) social media trend. Look for new articles tagged with #TBT here on Thursdays and join us for a look back on our history of working alongside farmers and rural communities.
Almost 30 years ago in 1986, the Rural Advancement Fund produced a ‘community seed saving kit,’ titled the Community Seed Bank Resource Kit. The publication was translated into three languages: Portuguese, French, and Spanish. It was intended for NGO’s in the Third World working on agricultural projects in rural communities, and for development workers in industrialized countries working in unison with Third World community organizations.
To offer some context, the main objective of a seed bank is to save and exchange regional seeds, keeping those seeds under the sovereignty of the community and its farmers. When droughts or floods occur, when disease or insects take over, the seeds will be safe and available.
Keeping seeds in the hands of the people is not the only benefit of a seed bank. There are many reasons why it is important to preserve regionally adapted seeds, especially concerning genetic conservation. As an example, should a new disease strike and wipe out crops grown from traditional seeds, it is crucial to have access to seed varieties with traits that allow them to thrive where others will not.
The Community Seed Bank Resource Kit was prepared based on these five principles of genetic diversity as its foundation:
- Agricultural diversity can only be safeguarded through the use of diverse strategies.
- What agricultural diversity is saved depends on who is consulted. How much is saved depends on how many people are involved.
- Agricultural diversity will not be saved unless it is used.
- Agricultural diversity cannot be saved without saving the farm community. Conversely, the farm community cannot be saved without saving diversity.
- The need for diversity is never-ending. Therefore, our efforts to preserve this diversity can never cease.
With these principles as a guide, the kit is comprised of sections explaining the importance of agricultural genetic diversity, why there is a need for community seed banks, the role of voluntary agencies in agricultural conservation, and the practical application of building the seed bank.
The Community Seed Bank Resource Kit proved successful in reaching development workers and communities in Third World countries. It has been cited as a resource and inspiration for numerous projects and publications all over the globe.
Seed banks have now been established worldwide. It is reported that Brazil, India, Nepal, and Nicaragua have a large number. Other countries such as Bhutan, Bolivia, China, Guatemala, and Rwanda have established some seed banks, but not as many. Other countries are exploring the process and possibilities. The overall goals of individual seed banks vary based on community needs, including community resilience and food security, ensuring farmers’ rights, regeneration of plant genetic resources, and more . 
To read about RAFI’s current work on seed conservation visit: