Seed Library

March 2012

According to some data, three-quarters of the world's cultivated plants have been lost to extinction during the last century as a consequence of industrial single-crop farming. Agriculture has been subjected to an ever increasing pressure to produce more and maximise profits, which has rendered old local varieties all but a memory – a time when the quality of food was the most important issue.

What is a seed library?

A seed library is an alternative method of preserving the biodiversity of cultivated plants; it also strengthens local communities and returns seeds back into people's hands and nature. Its primary mission is to protect, preserve and promote the re-cultivation of old varieties intended for human consumption (native, traditional or domesticated plant varieties). Its attention is focused on finding and collecting rare or endangered species and vegetables, field crops, fruit plants, and vine varieties that are no longer available in commercial seed catalogues.

The seed library scheme is not well known in Slovenia. The Seed Guardians Association has established such a library within a programme section entitled Urban Furrows in the framework of Maribor 2012 – the European Capital of Culture ; its aim is to protect the biodiversity of the old cultivated plant varieties adapted to local conditions and to promote their re-cultivation.

Anton Komat, the independent researcher and ecologist, says that there are native, traditional and adapted cultivated plant varieties. He holds that seed libraries have the following major tasks: to collect seeds (seeds are kept on the plants to show their statuses and habitus); to fill in a record questionnaire, draw sketches and take photographs of each variety; to describe and determine a plant variety and enter data into a virtual seed library and/or e-data collection. It is important to preserve the purity of the variety, to maintain the collection in the seed library, and to propagate, disseminate and exchange seeds.

The aim of the seed library is to ensure seed access to all Slovenia's inhabitants. "We will also establish links with other saviours of old plant varieties from Central Europe. It is essential to establish an efficient network of seed saviours," emphasised Komat. At present, there is no clear knowledge of which indigenous varieties should be stored in the seed library as their collection and cataloguing have only just started. It is estimated that approximately 85 per cent of all varieties have become extinct; efforts should be made as a matter of urgency to preserve as many of those that remain as possible.

Method of operation

The vision of the seed library is to facilitate the exchange of seeds and planting material between its members free of charge. It is based on the system of free of charge exchange of goods, which also contributes towards the strengthening of the seed guardian community. Any small contribution made by an individual guardian will add to the diversity of Slovenian varieties, and increase seed selection and accessibility. One basic rule must be followed: healthy and quality seeds are a precondition for the quality of next year's crops.
Seeds are lent out in a manner similar to that of a book library: you borrow ten and return twelve seeds. In this way, the library's collection increases.
The seed library has attracted a lot of attention and is expected to thrive in the future. This is also possibly because the Seed Guardians Association has dedicated its efforts to educating and raising awareness among school children, mainly those attending primary school senior classes. They are thrilled by the new knowledge and say that they would be happy to make use of it.

Text by Polona Prešeren, M.Sc, Sinfo, February 2012 
Photo: Darinka Mladenovič and Polona Prešeren, M.Sc