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RRI inaugurates community seed bank: hope in the wake of war

RRI inaugurates community seed bank: hope in the wake of war

In the aftermath of a brutal civil war, war-torn communities are planting the seeds of restoration and peace. On Saturday May, 3rd Rainforest Rescue International and its implementing partner, Oxfam Italy, officially opened a seed bank in the village of Cheddikulum, Vavuniya District, Sri Lanka.

The development of the seed bank program is part of a larger project that RRI and Oxfam Italy have been carrying out in Sri Lanka’s war affected areas in the North and North-Eastern part of the island.  The project, titled, Improving arid zone agricultural resilience of war affected communities in Sri Lanka, has been running for three years and has assisted over 1,000 families.  The development of a community managed seed saving program has been a key component of the program and rounds out the variety of activities that have been coordinated as part of this project.

Leading up to the opening of the seed bank, the project engaged the community in building resilience through the implementation of home garden systems based on the principles of analog forestry.  Many of the families that the project has worked with are women-headed households, widowed by the war.  Other families have been affected by chronic kidney disease, which is now widespread throughout this region of Sri Lanka.  In an attempt to alleviate the economic and food security pressures within the targeted communities, RRI has distributed plants (including traditional ayurvedic medicinal plants), taught organic cultivation techniques, promoted ecologically appropriate design ideas like live fencing, restored traditional water catchment systems and implemented bioremediation water filtration systems around wells.

In addition, a number of collection and processing points have been set up to assist in marketing the community’s home forest garden products.  All of these activities are aimed at helping the community members find stability in their recovery from a deadly civil war that destroyed the serenity and security of their lives.

A major obstacle in achieving food security in Sri Lanka is the unavailability of traditional, heirloom, and open-pollinated seed stocks.  The majority of crops in Sri Lanka are grown from imported hybrid seeds, which do not produce viable seed for future cultivation.  The creation of a community managed seed bank ensures that the genetic heritage of traditional varieties of crops like okra, cow pea, rice, pumpkin, chilli, tomato and a great number of tubers can continue to nourish people for generations to come.  Without good, clean seeds, the genetic heritage is in danger of coming to an abrupt end.

On the opening day of the seed bank, community members, project staff, local partners, media, the Sri Lankan Army and local government were present to celebrate this important community initiative.  After a youth marching band led the guests into the compound, the opening ceremony was officiated by religious leaders from Buddhist, Hindu and Christian faiths.  The local brigade commanding officer of the Sri Lankan Army was given the honour of unveiling the plaque identifying the seed bank and cutting the ribbon to open the building to guests.  Traditional oil lamps were lit and prayers said at three auspicious times throughout the day.  On the day of the opening farmers from the community brought additional seed stocks from their home gardens and farms as an offering to the community at large.  The building itself hosts the necessary storage space and facilities to ensure seed stock are kept safe and available for the community to have access to.  In the future the facility will have an organic garden, seed production facility and nursery.

This is an important step forward for the organic movement in Sri Lanka and represents the opportunity for communities to take the necessary steps towards the promotion of their food’s genetic heritage.  Congratulations to RRI and the community of Cheddikulum on this important development.

See this gallery for photos from the event.

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