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Some 80-90% of seed used by smallholder farmers in developing countries is sourced from the informal seed system: saved from their own crops, bought from a market or shop or exchanged with friends and neighbours. 

Community-level seed saving initiatives have been around for about 30 years. They can come in the form of seed huts, seed libraries, seed savers groups, community seed banks and many others.  However, there is surprisingly little scientific research on community seedbanks, and that which exists is predominantly empirical.  A better understanding of the roles played by community seedbanks in the conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity, is the first step to gaining recognition from formal seed sectors and relevant policymakers who can provide them with technical and institutional support.

Bioversity International's research approach

Bioversity International is working with partners in several countries to help strengthen informal seed systems, support conservation of traditional farmers’ varieties and maintain seed security at the district and community level through community-managed seedbanks. 

Working with partners, we have established, or are in the process of establishing, community seedbanks in countries including Bhutan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Community Seedbanks: Origins, evolution and prospects

The latest book in the 'Issues in Agricultural Biodiversity' series, published by Earthscan/Routledge in association with Bioversity International, provides the first global review of the development of community seedbanks and provides many case studies from around the world.

The book is edited by Ronnie Vernooy, Genetic Resources Policy Specialist and Bhuwon Sthapit, Senior Scientist at Bioversity International with Pitambar Shrestha, Program Officer with Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD).

Download it for free from the Bioversity International website.

Download the book: Community Seedbanks

Safeguarding 1000 local varieties in Nepal's community seedbanks

In Nepal, community seedbanks have a long and rich history - today there are an estimated 115 seedbanks which together safeguard more than 1000 local varieties of cereals, vegetables, legumes, root crops and spices. They are supported in particular by a number of non-government organizations and more recently, also by government agencies, they can be found across the country from the lowland terai to the high hill areas and from east to west.

Bioversity International's efforts to connect these seedbanks to the national genebank have also resulted in 916 local varieties of 62 crop species being transferred from 15 seedbanks in 12 districts for long-term storage.  These safeguarded seeds have been a vital resource in restoration efforts in the remote areas of Nepal following the devastating earthquakes in 2015 which destroyed around 60% of household's food and seed stocks in the 6 most affected districts.

Download the book: Community Seedbanks in Nepal


How to develop and manage your own community seedbank

Ronnie Vernooy, Genetic Resources Policy Specialist, reports on a new handbook for farmers who want to establish or strengthen community seedbanks.

The farmer’s handbook consists of a series of three short booklets specifically written and designed to be used by community members involved in, or wanting to be involved in, a community seedbank. Each booklet focuses on a theme presented by the members of a community seedbank in Africa, Asia and Latin America:

  • Booklet 1 takes us to South Africa and is about establishing a community seedbank.
  • Booklet 2 takes us to India and is about technical issues concerning seed management.
  • Booklet 3 takes us to Guatemala and is about management, networking and policy issues.


Read more


Ronnie Vernooy