“Seeds Are the Foundation of Life”: Five Questions with Soledad Saburido Álvarez, founder of Somos Semilla Seed Library in Mexico

by | Sep 17, 2019 | Seeds: Our Blog

Q: In a few words, can you tell me about your project and how you came up with the idea?

A: Somos Semilla Seed Library brings education and food sovereignty to the community, strengthening the long-term health of our environment through seed saving. We work to provide seeds and educational tools and materials. We believe that seed saving is elemental for maintaining people’s traditions and cultural identity.

I have always loved seeds, and I have always believed that despite being the foundation and beginning of everything, they are often forgotten or belittled. My work for more than 10 years in scientific research centers brought me closer to the problem of biodiversity loss, the problems linked to the future of food, and the loss of identity for people and cultures as their seeds are lost.

This was the initial motivation to co-coordinate Somos Semilla with my colleague Jennifer Ungemach and other members of the community in 2015, supported by a local network called S.O.L. (Sustainable, Organic & Local). Nothing has stopped us since then, and in one way or another, we have always been able to continue with our main objective: to distribute open pollinated seeds among community members and disseminate the theoretical and practical bases of seed conservation, so that this movement becomes increasingly larger and firmly established in society, as recognized as a fundamental need for the future of the food and the environment.

Q: How does your project change lives/impact the environment?

A: Seeds are the foundation of life, from fruits and vegetables to grain — without them, we have no food. Age-old heirloom varieties are disappearing at an alarming rate — 90 percent of the crop varieties grown 100 years ago are already gone.

Somos Semilla is a community initiative that began with the objective of conserving seeds in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, inspired by the revolutionary movement worldwide. By saving your seeds, you control your seed and therefore your food supply. Also, we have the responsibility to be the caretakers of the seed varieties that thrive in our more extreme conditions. By saving seeds from plants acclimated to our region, we are safeguarding them from an uncertain future with climate change. We are literally ‘breeding resilience.’

Our work operates on the foundation that food sovereignty and security are deeply rooted to a community. So, we use a community-based approach to promote seed conservation. To that end, since 2015, we have distributed seeds and educational materials to a diverse group of people (farmers, urban gardeners, children, etc.), along with holding workshops, seed swaps, exhibitions, and seed-keepers’ meetings.
We have been promoting the ancestral practice of seed saving through the creation, at the end of 2017, of Grow-Harvest-Share: Seeds for Everyone, an artistic illustrated seed-saving manual designed to share these skills with all.

Q: What did the TPP grant mean to you?

A: The first time we received the TPP grant in 2015, we carried out programming based as a Mobile Seed Library, and we were able to reach rural communities and distribute seeds and information about seed saving and its importance, especially among groups of women who are running small community gardens. This was our most important jump to be recognized by our community, and we started to believe in our dream.

Q: How did the TPP grant help you achieve your long-term goals?

A: With the impact grants received later, we ran the Grow-Harvest-Share: Seeds for Everyone & Somos Semilla: A Community Seed Library in Mexico programs, consisting of distributing and using our illustrated seed saving manual and related educational materials among different groups of the community, and spreading the word nationally, creating a reference document that inspires others to create new seed libraries everywhere!

During this process, we have added new members to our Library, and we recruited new volunteers who collaborate with us. Most importantly we spread seeds and the importance of seed saving in our community, regionally as well as nationally and internationally through our work on social media.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: The important thing is that what we most want in the world is for people to recognize the problems of losing seed diversity and genetic erosion in crop plants, in order to take action in time. It is absolutely essential to promote and disseminate existing information on seed conservation, and to generate new resources adapted to current needs. We already have the experience in seeing how people become fascinated when you introduce them into the seed-saving world. Through art and beauty, the technical concepts and seed-saving information flows easily to be put into practice.

The support of TPP allows us to continue using our educational materials to awaken interest in creating more seed libraries throughout Mexico and the world.

Soledad Saburido Álvarez has been the coordinator, together with Jennifer Ungemach, of the Somos Semilla Seed Library, in San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato, Mexico) since 2015, when the project began. Born in Galicia, Spain, she has a degree in Plant Biology and she did her doctorate with a thesis based on the study of the evolution and genetics of common beans. In 2012 she arrived to Mexico to make a postdoctoral stay at the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (Langebio), Cinvestav; and after that period she began the first steps of Somos Semilla. The Seed Library continues to grow, and they have carried out numerous workshops, courses, and events related to the conservation of seeds in the area, including coordinating with the organization of the first Mexican Meeting of Seed Guardians in March 2017.

Written by Carolyn Ashworth