Starting a Community Seed Bank: Part 1 – A Good Idea?

Post-harvest activities


A seed bank protects rare and useful local crops. It is also an emergency source of seed if crops fail due to disease, pests, or bad weather. This series of scripts explains why a seed bank is useful and how to set one up.

Everyone knows that a bank is where people save their money. Today we are going to talk about a different sort of bank, one that contains seeds, not money. It is a community seed bank. Before explaining what it is, let’s ask some important questions.

Why save seeds? Without seeds, crops will not grow. Most important, without a wide selection of seeds, crops will not grow well. Using seeds from many varieties ensures that these crops will be healthy, and that seed is always available to farmers despite drought, flooding, disease, or insects.

Why is a wide selection of seeds important? There are many varieties of every important crop or tree. For instance there are different varieties of maize and each variety has specific characteristics. Certain varieties of maize have yellow kernels, and others have white kernels. Some maize plants are tall, and others are shorter. Some maize has better protection against insects, while other maize tolerates drought, and so on.

The different varieties and characteristics of local crops are called diversity. Diversity protects crops from poor weather, insects, or disease. If seed from many different varieties is not saved, diversity is lost. And without diversity, the future of both the crop and the farm will be threatened.

Does your community need a seed bank? To decide if a bank is needed, answer these two questions:

  1. Do farmers grow local and unusual varieties of food crops?
  2. Do many farmers exchange and share seeds with family and neighbours? If you answered yes to both questions, then farmers are already protecting crop diversity so that it may not be necessary to start a seed bank. When many farmers grow local varieties and exchange the seed they ensure that good quality seed is always available. Exchanging and sharing seeds among many farmers and across large areas often keeps the seed strong and diverse. But sometimes farmers can’t exchange or save seeds. In some parts of the world, farmers do not work together. In other areas, poor yields force farmers to eat their seed. In these cases, a carefully organized seed bank will ensure that there is always some local seed available.

Starting a community seed bank Later we will discuss how to start a community seed bank. You will learn how to collect seeds for the bank, how to clean and dry the seeds, and how to store them. How to keep important information about the seeds, and when to plant out the seeds will also be explained. In the meantime, grow and protect local crops and rare and useful plants. They may be the most important savings you ever make!


Helen Hambly Odame, an agroforestry researcher who works in Canada and Kenya wrote this script. Her address is IDRC, Liaison House, State House Road, Nairobi, Kenya.

Harvey Harman helped with the initial preparation.

The script was reviewed by Elizabeth Abergel, Plant Geneticist, York University, Toronto, Canada.

This series of four scripts is based on information in the Community Seed Bank Kit, Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), P.O. Box 655, Pittsboro, North Carolina 27312, USA. Part of this kit called “Building the bank” is included with this script.

The production of this script was made possible through the generous support of the George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation of Toronto, Canada.

Information sources

Growing Diversity: Genetic Resources and Local Food Security, Edited by: David Cooper, Renée Vellvé, and Henk Hobbelink, 1992, (166 pages). Intermediate Technology Publications, 103/105 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4HH, United Kingdom.

The following Network scripts also have information on seeds:

  • Grow many different crops and crop varieties Package 18, script 5.
  • Save your own seeds; Part one: seed selection Package 29, script 1.
  • Save your own seeds; Part two: seed storage Package 29, script 2.
  • Traditional, hybrid, and improved crops Package 28, script 2.

Organizations working with community seed banks

    c/o CET Casilla 16557
    Correo 9
    Santiago, Chile
  • Information Division
    International Plant Genetic Resource Institute
    Via Delle Sette Chiese 12 00145
    Rome, Italy
  • Seeds of Survival
    USC Canada
    56 Sparks St.
    Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5B1
  • Vanaja Ramprashad Navdanya
    839, 23rd. Main Road J.P. Nagar, 2nd. phase
    Bangalore 560 078, India
  • Zuni Folk Varieties Project
    c/o Centre for People, Food & Environment
    344 South Third Avenue
    Tucson, Arizona 85701