Caring for life: Quindío’s seed custodians
This week we meet with Antonio Arbeláez, a former resident of a Colombian city who one day decided to return to the countryside and adopt a new identity: that of “ neocampesino ”, that is, a person who works in the fields and agriculture without initially that would have been his trade or profession. He began practicing agroecology but was soon faced with a harsh reality: “Without seeds there is no agroecology” and ours are in danger. That is why for 10 years, together with 45 other people, they have been part of a network that is dedicated to caring for life, carrying out a very particular task: they are custodians of native and creole seeds in the department of Quindío (Colombia).
The first concern that arose to us was, what does your job consist of? What is it to be a seed custodian? He explained to us that: “It is a person who identifies a seed that is no longer used or that is in danger of extinction . He takes care of it, learns about it, selects the best ones, plants it and then shares it, exchanges it or sometimes sells it. Each custodian takes a seed as if it were the last commission that the gods made him to save humanity. Who dedicates himself to this activity, does a whole task of rescuing the seed, but goes further. He spreads its uses, promotes its preparations and tries to restore the place that this food once had in our food culture .
And it is that, although it is hard for us to believe it, our seeds need guardians like Antonio and his group, because they are in danger and have very powerful enemies. “To understand it, you must first know that a seed is not a kernel. It is a living being. He is a sleeping child who is waiting to be taken into the dark and into the water. Each of them carries genetic, environmental and cultural information. Therein lies its strength, but also its weakness. Because it turns out that this miracle that reproduces life has three enemies: firstly, the multinationals that have monopolized certifications and now it is not possible in almost any country to sell food if the seed is not certified. These companies, to earn more in their business, only sell seeds of a few varieties of a few foods. For example, Antonio tells us that there are more than 37 thousand varieties of beans in the world, but only about four are traded. The reason?: they need to facilitate packaging, transportation and marketing and that is only achieved if they are dedicated to selling millions of seeds but of a few types.
The other enemies of seeds are the laws that currently, and in almost all countries, force farmers to sow only the seeds sold by these multinationals. Farmers around the world are exploited every time they plant food because they are forced to buy certified seeds. Some of them for their resistance to the monopoly of the multinationals have gone to jail. The other enemy is ourselves, who without wanting it, have let the companies decide what we eat and how we prepare it.
To give an example of the crisis of our seeds, in Quindío there were some 17 varieties of corn a few years ago. Today, Antonio tells us, only two are used. And that happens in all countries with traditional foods. But the seeds that are in danger are not only those used to produce food. The same risk runs the cotton with which we make our clothes, those of medicinal plants, the seeds of plants used to produce baskets, packaging, hats, chairs, etc. In other words, the risk is for the entire reproduction of our cultures.
The fruits of the work of the custodians of Quindío are evident: they sell their food in the agroecological market, they rescue traditional ways of preparing food and Antonio proudly says, for example, that on his farm he has at least 57 types of yucca and that they will soon a national meeting of custodians of cassava. They do it because they know that it is necessary to preserve this wealth, but also because they understand the importance for our survival of having alternatives to the few foods that we consume today and that are in the hands of multinationals.
The recovery of our seeds and the ways of preparing food is, without a doubt, the first step for our sovereignty. It is not possible to think of ways out of the food crisis if we do not first carry out an exercise in liberating our practices and the cultural and genetic material that our seeds keep.
Listen to the full interview here:
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