seed bank

food sovereignty starts with seed SOVEREIGNTY

Our story with the gardens and plants actually started with a story about seeds. And I’d love to share with you this story. Many years ago, one of my cousins got sick. He caught a cold and was coughing very badly. A friend of his made him a herbal tea and he instantly felt better. When he asked his friend what he gave him, he said Basil! My cousin asked if he could have some of that basil with him. So he brought the basil home, and it still had some seeds in it. My mother wrapped the seeds in a piece of a plastic and tied the plastic to the rope of our tent. She wanted to get back to it, but she forgot to do so. The sun had eaten away the piece of plastic and it fell down. The seeds spread on the ground everywhere. We didn’t notice anything. About a year later, it rained a bit. A few days after the rain, green sprouts were popping out everywhere around our tent. We were very surprised to see these little plants that we haven’t planted and have never seen before. The neighbors also got interested, the basil had a beautiful smell. Everyone started to ask. What’s this amazing smell that you have around your tent? From that moment, we took care of basil and started to grow it. Seeds from the first basil collection still pop up every now and then in different areas around our tent. We were surprised how resilient basil can be because it made it through the crazy heat during the summer. It’s now our symbol of resilience. We grow it every year in our garden, and we use it for food and medicine.

Collecting Russian Garlic seeds ©Mohamed Sleiman Labat

As small scale family gardens in the Sahrawi community emerge and grow, different aspects of the garden practice are also developing. This includes making local fertilizers, shading techniques, irrigation systems, soil building and now we think a seed bank is an important part of the practice to encourage the families secure local and adaptive seed varieties.

The Seed Bank is a collection of seeds kept alive locally in order to be grown again and again by the families in the camps. A seed bank doesn’t have to be in a big building, it can be any seed collection preserved by any individual farmer or community members. A Seed Bank is not only for the farmers to reproduce their vegetables, it can also be a source of food in itself as some seeds are edible and highly nutritious, some can be used as a medicine too. When they were nomads, the Sahrawi people had a long tradition of gathering and preserving wild seeds for food, for medicine and now to grow their plants with local seeds in the camps.

Collecting, preserving and swapping seeds are parts of the seed bank and studio practices. We are collecting local seeds from vegetables and herbs grown locally by the families that have small scale family gardens especially in Samara Camp. Some seeds have come from abroad for their nutritional value and health benefits. The families are growing food on a small scale, and they are still struggling to keep it going. In the beginning, Taleb Brahim has collaborated with different NGOs to bring different seeds to the camps. Yaugiha Mohamed has also brought a basil variety with purple flowers and stronger taste and smell. I myself have brought kale seeds, for example, from Finland and they have been doing well adapting to the local climate and conditions. An amazing collection of different seeds came from my amazing friends in Helsinki including kale seeds from the garden of Sanni Seppo, a variety of different seeds from Egle Oddo and tomatoes and some berries from the garden of Susanne Ådahl and Teemu Matinpuro. Some of these seeds proved to be hardy and adaptive and have been doing well, other families are also growing them. Some didn’t sprout, it’s not easy to understand why, we do have some extreme conditions that plants may not be able to tolerate. Such seeds have primarily been brought in to the camps for their nutritional values. But we hope to collect their seeds as they grow and regrow in our area.

seed bank
Collecting Basil Seeds ©Mohamed Sleiman Labat

A seeds bank can start functioning with basic practices like identifying the seeds, categorizing them, labeling them with basic information such as the names of the plants, the place where they have been collected and the year of harvest. The labels are important because the different seeds are grown in different soils and different climates. Our seed bank is stored in Motif Art Studio. The different families are also starting small seed collections, they are their seed banks.
When we collect seeds from the local gardens in the camps, the plants, naturally, imprint a huge amount of information in the seeds genes, this information will help them adapt and respond to the environments and climates their mother plant has experienced. So establishing a seed bank is very important because the local seeds will be more adaptive to the local climate in the Hamada Desert, and the more we grow from these locally collected seeds, the more those plants will be familiar with the local circumstances and climatic factors and the better they know how to respond and survive.

As an art project, a seed bank could help the families who run these small scale family gardens to collect, preserve and swap seeds. But the gardens themselves are still taking slow steps to develop. We realized it’s not an easy task. It’s a long process and a lot of more work needs to be done in the gardens before we could collect the seeds or swap them. Some families could not collect the seeds from the gardens as the gardens could not make it before the plants could produce the seeds. The heat was too intense; the plants got burned or died. The practice of collecting seeds has started at a small scale, here and there. Some families have managed to collect seeds of lettuce, tomatoes, pepper and carrot. They will regrow their plants from these seeds. These are small steps, but it can be organized and improved as we learn more about the world of plants and seeds in the garden.

Sister seed banks and collections can also be found in Almasar Library in Tifarity Neighborhood, the Nomad Garden in Mahbas Neighbourhood, Ashekua Project and Garden in Tifariti and of course in Algaada Centre for Small Scale Agricultural Research and by different other practicing families.

Our Seed Bank collection Includes vegetable seeds, fruits’ seeds, trees’ seeds as well as herbs and weeds.

We will add the list later when it gets more organized.

Seed collections and packages ©Mohamed Sleiman Labat

The Seed Bank Project won the Cultures of Resistance Award in 2022

Find out more about Cultures of Resistance Network 

Motif Art Studio Seed Bank is joining the platform Critical Seeds of Resistance, an initiative organized by Aterra Terra Lab in Palermo, Italy, to which they invited seed savers, seed libraries and banks, artists, farmers, foragers, permaculture instructors and others working with different seed saving realities and practices from around the world.

Learn more about Aterra Terra Critical Seeds of Resistance.

We will update you about the platform soon