Ecological agriculture is often misunderstood, seen merely as not using chemical fertilisers and pesticides and securing food safety. In fact, it embodies much more, namely the culture and wisdom of the local traditional agriculture where it is practised. It broadens one’s way of living and builds a community-resilient food system.
In Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, significant practical and technological know-how in ecological agriculture has been gained through training in various models, such as permaculture and natural farming systems. Yet, we and our partner Guangxi Guoren Poverty Alleviation and Rural Development Centre have all along been contemplating how to encourage farmers to organise themselves and how they can further their own perceptions and knowledge of agriculture in all its multi-functionality: ecological conservation, food security, physical health, psychological well-being, community economy and cultural diversity.
Everything starts from building connections with local life. Having reflected on industrialised agriculture, eco-farmers have come to realise that seeds and species are the source of their daily living, be it the planting of the rice paddy, maize and fruit trees, or the raising of various animals such as pigs or ducks. Simply, local seeds constitute the bedrock of genetic diversity. In August 2015, we organised various farmers (including core villagers from our ecological agriculture project sites), eco-farmers from Guangxi, and new farmers, to launch Guangxi Seeds Network (GSN). The coordination of the network has been managed by Guangxi Guoren Poverty Alleviation and Rural Development Centre since 2018.
A series of workshops was held to enhance farmers’ knowledge on the multi-functionality of seeds, as well as to raise awareness of the connections between heritage, crafts and community building. Small grants were provided for farmers’ groups for training, study trips, co-learning and networking.
These activities drew farmers interested in seeds together. More and more farmers began to value their seeds more highly and to become more enthusiastic about conservation. Farmers in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region interacted more with each other, as well as with eco-technicians, and as the platform expanded, others also joined: around Guilin Prefecture, the majority were young returnees; in Baise and Hechi Prefectures, mostly farmers; and in the vicinity of the capital city of Nanning, mainly Community Supported Agriculture network members and farmer-marketgoers. As time went on, some core farmers started to lead seed conservation activities in their own communities, while returnees tended to seek deeper engagement and exchange with farmers from other areas.
On the whole, most farmers are keen to share, both within and beyond their home community. To this end, GSN has developed a strategy that is community-based, regional-interactive and provincial-engaging. At the community level, they support core members to mobilise their communities to protect seeds, develop educational activities, set up community seed banks, and facilitate seed conservation. At the regional level, they support the formation of study groups and exchanges to foster a sense of belonging among farmers, encouraging them to act with a sense of agency. At the provincial level, grants for study trips have been made available for information sessions and cross-regional exchanges, strengthening interaction among eco-farmers.
Over the past four years, the number of GSN participants has increased from about 10 to over 150, first in Guangxi and now also in Guizhou and Sichuan provinces. Members gather on their own initiative to share experience, to exchange ideas, to discuss their own specific cultural connotations, and learn from others’ everyday practices in ecological agriculture.
（from Annual Report 2017-2018）