The idea for Terrena, a programme to develop a collection of seed gardens, grew from the drastic shortage of organic seeds in Bolivia, and is one of four grassroots regeneration plans to receive a 2018 Lush Spring Prize Intentional Projects Award and with it £10,000 in funding.
The project first took shape when Bolivia’s organic seed shortage sparked the idea of Llajta Cultiva; a seed bank that serves everyone from community farmers to city dwellers in their pursuit of growing, consuming, and selling high-quality, locally-grown, organic produce. Hoping to move the enterprise forward, the team is now organising a seed cooperative with Terrena, to create seed gardens and develop a unique training program that will teach other would-be-producers to organise and run their own seed cooperatives.
The group’s idea concentrates on the endangered tradition of seed guardianship, which sees a seed guardian use the seeds to grow crops, but later return the seeds to the exchange in order to preserve rare or organic varieties, help expand the growing library and ultimately benefit others.
“Despite the existence of a law that supposedly favours organic farming, there is no organic production or marketing of seeds in Bolivia available to non-farmers who don’t know the networks, like families in areas near urban centres,” explains Alize Andrea Toro Ortuño, a professional plant breeder and the enterprise’s founder.
It’s still early days for the project, which is currently running a pilot with a trio of farmers to establish three seed gardens to produce nine types of organic vegetable seeds, alongside developing a training system which will teach producers the technical and management skills required to start and run an organic seed cooperative.
Alize Andrea says the £10,000 funding from the Intentional Projects Award will help the enterprise achieve this first stage: “The award means we’re going to be able to start from a more secure position, rather than getting halfway through and being forced to stop because of a cash-flow problem. It also means we won’t need to set our prices very high at the start so that less well-off families will be able to buy the seeds that we produce to become self-sufficient in their food production.”
Once this initial phase is complete, the next stage will see the team develop the organisation in terms of scaling, marketing, commercialisation, and gaining association to relevant organic and fair trade organisations.
Although the initiative currently faces challenges in terms of limited resources and a lack of specialised knowledge, one thing in its favour is its prominent location in Cochabamba, a valley region in the middle of the country, which is perfectly positioned to connect potential seed producers with consumers, and benefits from the ideal climate for growing a wide variety of seeds.
“Our project is using organic practices to produce the seeds such us mulching, regenerative water management, soil production, and composting,” Alize Andrea says. “We are using water retention landscape techniques to regenerate the soil and retain the water, so are able to work with nature and her cycles.”
But it’s not just the land Terrena is reviving, as the founder explains: “We are committed to making a strong network of seed producers, that receive a fair pay for their work, a social enterprise that not only makes a profit, but also creates a community, and one that has a positive impact on the environment.”
Keep up to date with Terrena’s trials and tribulations, successes and conquests at www.facebook.com/terrena.creandoconNatura and www.facebook.com/llajtacultiva/.
The Lush Spring Prize, hosted by Lush and co-operative Ethical Consumer Research Association, offers a £200,000 prize fund and other support activities, to help projects around the world that are working towards environmental and social regeneration.
Regeneration illustration by David McMillan.