Saving seeds as an act of justice

With KATC’s support, community household seedbanks have been established in Zambia. Photo: KATC

Working for justice has always been in the DNA of Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC).  

In the 1990s, KATC started teaching Sustainable Organic Agriculture (SOA) to farmers. SOA is respectful of Mother Nature and helps regenerate the soil. For example, we do not need to add chemical fertilizers, but can instead use animal manure to keep soil organisms alive.  

When Br Paul Desmarais SJ, founder of KATC, came from Canada to Zambia over 50 years ago, his goal was to lift small-scale farmers out of poverty through conventional agricultural techniques. 

 The idea was that when farmers have access to chemical fertilizers, better seeds, pesticides, and high-powered farm machinery they will make a good living out of it. Unfortunately, this did not happen. People’s lives did not improve; they slowly became poorer. Conventional agriculture bred dependency and injustice grew. This was an eyeopener for Br Paul and KATC to shift to SOA.  

The small-scale farmers we are working with feel the impact of climate change and face disintegrating social structures in their communities. We work with them to explore solutions to these problems. KATC realized that native seeds are key to saving the cultural identity and economic survival of the farmers. The UN recognizes that cultivation of native seeds not only contributes to biodiversity, but also people’s sovereignty. Seeds are the foundation of every human society and culture. 

 Local varieties have a better potential to adapt to climate change than drought-resistant and genetically modified seeds that are praised as the solution to the climate crisis. Local seeds adapt very well to harsh weather conditions, such as long dry spells. KATC has helped build community seedbanks in different districts and household seedbanks where families can store their own seeds.  

Through its various projects over the years, KATC has developed strong, long-term relationships with farmers around the country.  

KATC’s enduring partnership with Canadian Jesuits International has also proven to be invaluable. These relationships have allowed KATC over the decades to understand deeper what working for justice and care for our common home means. Through support and discussions with farmers, KATC has been able to evolve and change its perspective.  

Because of the current climate crisis, we understand that everything on Earth is connected and that our way of looking at the environment, and of doing things, has an impact on the farthest corners of the world.