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All around the world, farmers and their communities are struggling to maintain crop diversity, in particular of farmer varieties.

Diversity is disappearing or under pressure due to the commercialization of agriculture, expansion of the industrial food sector, monopolization of seed production and/or recurring natural disasters, most notably droughts, floods and hurricanes. Farmers also face the impact of climate change.


Crop diversity plays a key role in farmers’ livelihoods: a source of food and nutrition, a buffer to environmental disturbances, a cultural or spiritual treasure. Community seedbanks are forms of collective action to withstand and counter crop diversity loss.

Bioversity International's research approach

We recognize and support the multiple functions of community seedbanks. As locally government institutions to conserve and share seeds of crop varieties important to farmers, they are concrete examples of on-farm management of agrobiodiversity.

Community Seedbanks

  • Allow the processes of both natural and human selection to continue as part of the agricultural production system
  • Are repositories of local genetic diversity that is often adapted to prevailing climate conditions including biotic stresses, such as crop pests.
  • Contribute to community-based strategies for adaptation to climate change.

They can do so by

  • Securing improved access to and availability of diverse, locally adapted crops and varieties through the use of multiple germplasm sources
  • Enhancing related local knowledge and skills in plant management including seed selection, treatment, storage, multiplication and distribution.

Community seedbanks are platforms that can also ensure effective implementation of farmers’ rights. They can grow into centres for experimentation and innovation around seeds to secure their rights and interests in production that is affordable, productive and respectful of the integrity of their landscapes and plant genetic resources. Women play active roles and make important contributions to the day-to-day operations of community seedbanks, as custodians and caretakers of seeds in many countries. 

We work in three thematic areas:

Technical and organizational issues

Those who wish to operate community seedbanks must adhere to a a minimum set of technical criteria. Technical issues emerge throughout the cycle of seed management, from the early stage of selecting which crop species and varieties to keep (and that selection may change over time) to the documentation of the collection and its use. In addition, community seedbanks must find ways to benefit from the latest technologies and management innovations. Considerable variety exists in terms of exactly how community seedbanks are governed and managed. We examine what can be done to increase the rigor and regularity of their execution.

Useful reads:

How to develop and manage your own community seedbank - Farmers' Handbook

The Farmer’s Handbook consists of a series of three short booklets specifically written and designed to be used by community members involved in, or wanting to be involved in, a community seedbank. Each booklet focuses on a theme presented by the members of a community seedbank in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Policy and legal support

Capacity development and networking

Community seedbanks can have a multiplier effect if they cultivate partnerships and engage in networking and sharing of information and seeds with other seed system actors. Small community seedbanks can, thus, sometimes become large ones, or a network of small community seedbanks with considerable scope and depth can emerge. We investigate how networking capacities can be strengthened and a strong regional, national and international movement created to scale the work of community seedbanks.

Useful reads

Beating the heat with community seedbanks

For most countries, the role of community seedbanks to help farmers adapt to climate change is simply not yet on the radar. A new study highlights why this invaluable resource for safeguarding and sharing locally-adapted seed diversity deserves a place at the policy table.


Find out more

Community Seedbanks: Origins, evolution and prospects

This book provides the first global review of the development of community seedbanks and provides many case studies from around the world.

It is edited by Ronnie Vernooy, Genetic Resources Policy Specialist and Bhuwon Sthapit, former Senior Scientist at Bioversity International with Pitambar Shrestha, Program Officer with Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD). It is part of the 'Issues in Agricultural Biodiversity' series, published by Earthscan/Routledge in association with Bioversity International,

Download it for free from the Bioversity International website.

Download the book: Community Seedbanks


Ronnie Vernooy 


A global community seedbank platform

Genetic Resources Policy Specialist, Ronnie Vernooy, discusses how Bioversity International and partners tackle the need for greater connectivity...

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Strengthening farmers' seed systems in China

Dr. Yiching Song, Senior Researcher at the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Dr. Ronnie Vernooy, Senior...

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How to develop and manage your own community seedbank

Ronnie Vernooy, Genetic Resources Policy Specialist, Bioversity International, reports on a new handbook for farmers who want to establish or...

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Community seedbank workshop unites representatives from around the world

Earlier this fall, International Workshop on Community Seedbanks attracted a truly international and diverse crowd: almost 100 farmers, experts,...

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Farmers learn about different bean and maize varieties at a seed fair in Saraguro, Ecuador. Credit: Bioversity International/J.Coronel

A fresh look at crop seeds for healthy diets

As we get ready for World Food Day, researcher Jacob van Etten reminds us that seeds are a central piece of our food systems, as the vehicles that...

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