Seeds of Change How "seed saving" Projects Support Indigenous Peoples

Traditional "seed saving" projects are an example of how support for indigenous peoples can be classified across investment areas. Funded in all geographic regions where agriculture is a cornerstone of indigenous economies, from India to Africa to Latin America, these projects are administered under different programs, such as agriculture, climate change, economic development, human rights, and gender equity, depending on a funder's overall lens and priority areas.

Known as ‘heirloom’ seeds in the U.S., seeds that survive different weather patterns over time were once traditionally collected by indigenous communities. However, the practice eroded as governments and NGOs brought in commercial seeds, often of nontraditional plants, in development schemes. These were less adaptive to the climate changes, which ultimately affected the food security and health of communities who survive on agriculture.

Some funders support traditional seed banks as integral to human understanding of the world and the issues we face. Those interested in climate change adaptation view seed saving as essential to future food security for both indigenous and industrialized societies, since it preserves species proven resilient against dramatic environmental changes. Bringing back traditional seeds that are drought resistant, for example, can be part of a strategy to prevent hunger in a community.

“Seed saving is aligned to the foundation’s goals for food sovereignty,” said Lourdes Inga, formerly of The Christensen Fund. 

These projects preserve the variety of traditional crops, she explained, such as enset, an important root crop in Ethiopia; native potatoes in Peru; or varieties of rice around the world. Indigenous women are largely responsible for saving the seeds in many indigenous cultures; they are usually responsible for deciding which are stored for future cultivation. Women are the keepers of this traditional knowledge who pass it on to the next generation. As a result, these types of projects appeal to programs that focus on human rights and gender equity.

The diversity of program areas that can support seed saving projects reflects different
funder strategies:

  • The International Development Exchange (IDEX) funded a seed saving project in Guatemala as a strategy to repair community ties broken by 36 years of civil war. The act of sharing seeds brought together communities who later organized collectively around other issues.
  • The Swift Foundation is funding seed saving in Peru as a cultural survival strategy to protect ancestral species from genetic modification.
  • The Christensen Fund supported The Hopi Foundation to protect intergenerational agricultural practices through a Hopi seed library and grants for community-based food and agriculture initiatives.


This takeaway was derived from Funding Indigenous Peoples.