Food Sovereignty Through Seed Saving

            To preserve Guåhan’s beautiful, ancient culture, it’s critical to look at a practice conducted by our ancestors for thousands of years: seed saving. For at least 12,000 years, farmers all over the world used seed saving[1]. Ancient Filipino farmers employed an impressive ‘memory bank’ to preserve different traits for their sweet potato crops[2]; the indigenous Maya Achi, in present-day Guatemala, boasted similarly large ancient seed banks[3]. In Guam, CHamoru farmers exercised a form of seed saving by storing root crops for emergency use in case of typhoons, avoiding the threat of the famines that may come as a result of such storms[4]. Seed saving is key ancestral knowledge for sustainable agriculture.

            The rise of the modern commercial seed industry disrupted the long-standing practice of seed saving. Companies in the United States developed the technology to ship reliable, low-cost seeds in bulk since the end of World War II[5]. In 1996, genetically engineered seeds were introduced; the advantages such seeds offered to for-profit farms, combined with the threat of legal action under loosely worded laws, would allow only a few large corporations to exercise tight control over the entire seed industry[6].  In 2007, only three companies made up around half of the global seed market, a development one study found responsible for “an erosion of the seed diversity, as remaining companies eliminate[d] less profitable lines.”[7] Historical trends are alarming: according to a United Nations report, “since the 1900s, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties” [8].  

            Returning to seed saving can be crucial towards maintaining food sovereignty. In the long-term, saving local seeds puts power away from global seed monopolies––and returns choice to local farmers[9]. It preserves the whole food web, allowing ancient cultural foods to continue flourishing[10]. Since seeds are the source for future vegetation, keeping seeds within local hands is a critical first step towards food sovereignty[11].

            Today, indigenous peoples in the United States and the world are realizing the benefits of seed saving[12]. “Rematriation [reclaiming indigenous traditions] allows Native Americans to produce foods and gain a true sense of sovereignty”, explains Sean Sherman, a Lakota seed saver and professional chef[13].  Taylor Keen, a member of both the Omaha and Cherokee tribes, concurs; “[seed saving will] protect and preserve the genetic diversity of original seeds while promoting local, traditional, and sustainable agriculture.”[14]

            Guåhan, too, can benefit from seed saving. The ever-delicate nature of an island environment, as well as the irreplicable culture and diet of Guåhan, provide important reasons to preserve ancient seeds for future use. The Jones Act continues to loom over Guam––a convincing, everyday reminder of the need to produce food on island, if any decolonization movement is to move forward. And of course: supporting our farmers through ancient means will mean continuing to exercise Guåhan’s supportive and tight-knit culture.

[1] Sue Senger, “Save a Seed to Save Yourself: The Importance of Seed Saving in 2020,” Web. Age of Awareness. Published on January 1st, 2020,

[2] Virginia D. Nazarea, Cultural Memory and Diversity (The University of Arizona Press), cover.

[3] Andrew Wight, “Around The World, Indigenous Seed Banks Are Helping To Preserve Culture, Boost Nutrition And Protect The Environment,” Web. Ensia. Published on June 2nd, 2020,

[4] Levesque, History of Micronesia, vol.19, 401.

[5] Mark Hutton, “An Introduction to Seed Saving for the Home Gardener,” Web. University of Maine. Published on 2010,

[6] Anne Gibson, “Seed Saving Part 1: The Lost Art of Seed Saving,” Web. Garden Culture Magazine. Published on October 7th, 2019,

[7] Maja Eline Petersen, “[SEED SOVEREIGNTY] How can organic agriculture contribute to the development and protection of the seed – a case study of Nepal,” Agrobiology Department, Aahus University, 5. Web. Accessed at

[8] “What Is Happening To Agrobiodiversity?” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Published on November 7th, 2019,

[9] “HOW TO GUIDE 5: Seed Sovereignty And Saving,” Greenpeace. Published on July 10th, 2020,,controlled%20by%20emerging%20seed%20giants.&text=It%20is%20the%20basis%20to%20maintaining%20biodiversity%20as%20well%20a

[10] Lelani Clark, “Seed Saving is the Original Sharing Economy,” Civil Eats. Published on July 28th, 2017,

[11] Natalie Hoidai, “What’s In A Seed? The Critical Role Of Seed Politics In The Food Sovereignty Movement,” Sustainable Food Trust. Published on October 2nd, 2015,

[12]Jennifer Brandt et al, “Seed Stories: Indigenous Seed Saving, Sovereignty, and Stewardship,” Museum of Food and Drink. Published on April 22nd, 2021,

[13] Liz Susman, “How Seed Saving Is Repairing a Painful Past for Native Americans,” Modern Farmer. Published on May 20th, 2019,

[14] Elisabeth Sherman, “How Indigenous Seed Savers Safeguard Agricultural And Spiritual Tradition,” Matador Network. Published on September, 16th, 2020,

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