A seed saver is someone who harvests seeds from selected plants and saves them for planting. It is done to ensure crops are diverse and well-adapted to the environment.
How do they do it? Here are ways according to organic rice farmers from Bicol, a nursery owner in Rizal, and vegetable farmers from Benguet.
Rice farmers at TABI Farm
Tarabangan sa Bicol, Incorporated (TABI) is a trial/research farm in Legazpi City. In this farm, farmers save seeds not only for planting and diversification but also for disaster response. Hence, the farm’s Balik Binhi Program: a farmer-led climate resiliency program where the ten most resilient crops from the trial farm are adapted by farmers, and a portion of the harvests is stored for replanting and distribution.
According to Ronald Labrador, a farmer/environmental scientist who is in charge of the technical aspects of the trial farm, the key to storage longevity (6-12 months) of rice seeds is in correct drying. The inner part of the seed should be dried first before the outer covering. Farmers can do this by sun drying the seeds from 8 to 10 in the morning and 3 to 5 in the afternoon, according to Labrador. He added: “If not done properly, seeds may not grow at the same rate. If this happens, the dried-up seeds can be rehydrated by soaking them in water for 12 hours.”
Adaptors can also breed their rice varieties naturally, like what Pepito Babasa from Camarines Sur did. The result? A flood-resilient rice crop that farmers from MASIPAG, a network of thousands of smallholder farmers in the Philippines prefer because flooding has become more frequent especially during strong storms. TABI Farm is one of MASIPAG’s trial farms.
Currently, TABI Farm is testing varieties that can withstand saltwater from Banquerohan River (close to the sea) every time it overflows. All these are an effort to proactively respond to the climate crisis, because as Tom Borjal of TABI Farm put it, relief aids are not enough.
Likewise, the Sta. Magdalena Farmers’ Group in Sorsogon is a result of the local government’s climate resiliency program under the municipal agriculture office. According to its implementing partner Rice Watch Action Network, Inc., seed banking helps increase farmers’ access to more traditional rice varieties which they can test for climate viability.
Seed vending and seed reserve are also part of the approach. The former is the enterprise component to help organic farmers gain market access and support. The latter is where a portion of harvest is kept for possible recovery response via farmer-to-farmer aid.
A millennial’s nursery of Philippine native trees in Rizal
Lee Ann Canals-Silayan from Rizal province has been curious about trees all her life. For her, trees have stories to tell. So, it’s only natural for her to get curious about its seeds which she picks up when she comes across one and tries to grow it. It was just a hobby at first, she said in a Zoom interview.
“The turning point came in 2015 when I planted and grew a Narra tree in Ipo Watershed,” Silayan said, adding: “it’s now grown up and that gave me a wonderful feeling.” Thus, she created a nursery for Philippine native trees, including fruit bearing ones as a more intentional way of saving seeds.
She shared about seeds being orthodox, recalcitrant, or intermediate; and how these can influence the storage life of seeds.
The orthodox can be dried up and remain viable, while the recalcitrant will not. The intermediate falls somewhere in between. Rice is orthodox while jackfruit, marang, and mango are recalcitrants.
In her experience, she shared that it is important to label your storage containers to avoid mixing them up. “They are hard to identify as seedlings,” she said. Some of them will also not grow despite your expectations.
Still, she urges us to stay curious. “Stay open to what’s around you. Visit the parks that are accessible to you. Look for more information on the internet about those trees you encounter, or the fruits of seeds that you ate. If you have the chance, talk to locals that grow those trees.”
Finding communities that share your interest also help, from mountaineers, environment advocates, and fellow seed savers, including scientists. “I consider Dr. Jurgenne Primavera a mentor. Her being rigorous in her procedure is something I like to emulate. And she’s so generous with her time and knowledge,” Silayan said.
In a podcast interview, Silayan shared that it felt good to know people that don’t find these weird: smelling of leaves, hugging the trees, and the likes.
By the way, did you know that the blueberry jam from the famous pasalubong maker in Baguio City comes from a native tree called Tagpo? Fortunately, she also grows that in her nursery.
Vegetable seed savers of Benguet
Farmers from the Benguet Association of Seed Savers were able to revive the practice of saving seeds when a community seed library was established, thanks to the support of the municipal agriculture office of Tublay and the Global Seed Savers Philippines.
Elizabeth Martin, an indigenous Kankanaey and BASS member, said that she saved seeds using airtight glass jars where she sometimes added organic material like ash and mature pine tree chunks to prolong the life of seeds.
Martin is also a trained inspector for plants dedicated to saving seeds. This means we don’t get to eat them. For instance with lettuce, its leaves have to turn yellowish, and shriveled before it can produce tiny seed pods. Don’t worry because one plant can produce many seeds.
While it can be a tedious task especially with collecting very tiny seeds by hand, Martin is glad that she was able to reconnect with this ancient farming practice. Her ancestors used to store seeds on top of a fireplace because it’s cold, dark, and dry. Truly, viable seeds are those that are fully ripe and properly dried.
Saving seeds helps her save money, and bring seeds with her or continue practicing it regardless of where she may be, whether because typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut) had displaced her family in 2018 or when she needed to move to take care of an ailing family member. It also helps her realize that you can grow resilient crops without chemical fertilizers and pesticides which also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and kill soil and poison water sources.
Indeed, seeds are a lot of things. When it comes to climate change which is expected to make extreme disasters more frequent, it is every inch a form of protection.
About Bicol Umalohokan
It is a group of communicators formed because of Oscar M. Lopez Center’s Umalohokan Fellowship. Fellows create a media campaign about climate actions and solutions, like the practice of saving seeds in the Philippines.