The construction of Bioleft continues through the artisanal weaving of articulations and community ties. On Monday, December 14, a while after the partial solar eclipse that was seen in the Southern Cone, about thirty people from different places, organizations and disciplines met remotely to share a closing of Bioleft’s work in 2020 and begin to draw plans for the coming year. After a year that was full of unprecedented challenges for each person and organization due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was nice to take a few minutes to review the journey, and also to celebrate the joy of working together for a more equitable world.
It was an informal meeting, where we shared experiences and feelings about open seeds, participatory breeding and the sustainability of agricultural systems. The idea was, as Almendra Cremaschi said, to open the Bioleft kitchen. After a brief presentation, Almendra coordinated the circulation of the word among the attendees. First, each member of the Bioleft team introduced themselves and told what had brought them to the project. Then, different friends of Bioleft -who had already participated in workshops or activities- explained what motivated them to come. Finally, those who were approaching the project for the first time also told what their expectations were and how they related to the subject of seeds. The meeting closed with a musical offering by the artist Pampi Torre: a gato and a chacarera played and sung live, which left us all wanting to meet physically and dance.
A comment that was repeated was that the pandemic, as well as preventing some meetings and activities, also indirectly promoted others, since it enabled and normalized virtual meetings that eliminate distance as an obstacle. There were participants from different regions of Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Here are some of the ideas that were shared:
The power of collaboration
Many people emphasized that one of the most motivating elements of Bioleft is its horizontal operation and teamwork.
“My work with the Bioleft team began in the context of a debate on possible changes to the seed law, and it was an accelerated learning process about a problem that I had not been aware of. We wanted to work on participatory breeding, where the producer does not simply receive the already improved material but works together from the diagnosis to the execution of the program. It is a very stimulating path. It is not easy to build together, it is to go against a system that individualizes and separates us. It is a path with a lot of feedback; I feel very enriched”, said Gustavo Schrauf, Genetics Chair at the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of Buenos Aires and member of Bioleft since 2017.
Marcela Basch, communications coordinator, said: “Bioleft gave me the opportunity to build common goods. There is no commons without a community that builds its governance; it is a very beautiful and very challenging job.”
“It is a very deep learning space, with people from different disciplines and professions, where we meet other realities, and that is extremely enriching,” said Julian Asinsten, Bioleft research assistant since 2018. “It is rewarding to participate in a space where you can propose something new.”
María Paz Dos Santos, agricultural engineer and PhD student at FAUBA and member of Bioleft since 2020, said, “For me Bioleft is the possibility of building a fairer and more sustainable agriculture not only socially, environmentally as well. Since I got to know Bioleft, I was motivated to know that there was a concrete proposal, a new system for seed exchange, improvement, and also to generate links and opportunities to achieve the changes that are needed”.
Pablo Pérez, developer of the Bioleft platform, is part of the free and open source software community, which has a deep conviction in the importance of building common goods collectively. He said he found in Bioleft the possibility of implementing “certain techniques and knowledge that in other jobs I could not try, because there are other interests”. “Everything I can contribute to the group for me is pure joy, it motivates me to continue,” he said. “Everyone pulls for the same side and that helps.”
“It is the space where I find the possibility of building that open model, those technological alternatives that I understand that we have to build them, in a framework of much respect,” said María Laura Bravo, an agricultural engineer and professor at the University of La Plata who joined the team in 2020. “I am comforted to find the achievements that the process is giving, which allow us to continue thinking that the construction of an open and fairer model is possible.” He also remarked that agronomy works in the interaction between biological and social sciences.
“Bioleft is the most motivating project of all that I do” said Anabel Marín, director of the initiative since its foundation. “It combines what has interested me all my life, which is to study in order to understand and through understanding to be able to contribute to change, with acting, taking action. In practice, the experience of working concretely with the team, with the people, the possibility of collaborating, learning, getting to know and building something of this nature together, for me is unique. Collaborative work enriches me enormously”.
“Bioleft is a space for growth and construction that invites all my passions, because it is a great space for synthesis: participatory, methodologies, it connects me with agronomy,” said Almendra Cremaschi, from Bioleft’s founding nucleus, “In Bioleft I can do many different things, we discuss participatory breeding, we visit experiments, we invent experiments and criteria to evaluate, we decide what we will look for, how we will look for it… It is a space of great freedom and great creativity, and I live it with great passion.”
“In the field, seed is considered an input. You go and buy it and sow it. But seed is much more than an input:it has cultural value because it is the result of the selection of biology, culture, medicine and nutrition, through the selection made by farmers over thousands of years,” said Enrico Cresta, organic producer and part of Bioleft since 2018. “And also, it is a political fact, because it defines agricultural models and it is not a minor issue.” Enrico highlighted his collaboration with producer-breeder Milton Vélez, which was born from a meeting organized by Bioleft.
Milton also participated. “I’m just here watering a little corn in the backyard,” he said, as the aforementioned corn came into view in the background. “Bioleft is the origin. Our origin, as a human species, is participatory and collaborative. That’s why people of different kinds and backgrounds find in Bioleft their space for expression.”
Selva Cuppari, an agricultural engineer and lecturer at the National University of the South who works in native grassland restoration, said the idea of Bioleft and open seeds seemed necessary to her. “We’re going to produce seed, even if it’s a few years down the road, it doesn’t matter,” she said with a big smile. “Even if I am no longer around, or I retire, but this (free circulation of seeds) is going to happen.”
Pampi Torre, a folk singer and friend of Bioleft since its founding, said what attracted her to the project was its connection to ancestral culture. “Knowing Bioleft made me rethink many things, I have changed my diet, I understood a little more the origin of the seeds. And I am from La Pampa and my father worked in the fields every day”. And he closed: “Thinking collectively, that is what Bioleft is for me”.
Agronomist Pablo Rush, Secretary of Extension of the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of Buenos Aires, highlighted the growing importance of movements that seek to protect, restore and conserve native and creole seeds, such as seed houses. “You start to hear talk of seed recovery and restoration on many sides, also in the national state,” he stressed. “The native and creole seed movement has been picking up a lot of speed. The point is how all these movements that are taking place can be added”.
Tamara Perelmuter, doctor in social sciences and coordinator of the brand new Semillar program, of the Secretariat of Family Agriculture of the National Ministry of Agriculture, then took the floor. “As Enrico said, the seed is a political fact, it is the basis for building a different agri-food model. It is important to find how to get out of the defensive posture, how to build us tools for the positive to protect native and creole seeds”, he assured. He closed by stressing the importance of weaving networks to articulate the work of universities, municipalities and territorial experiences in relation to seeds.
José Luis Delgado Pamplona participated from the Colibrí seed house in Guadalajara, Mexico, and stressed the importance of involving children as seed guardians at a time when the debate on the registration of native and creole seeds is intensifying.
Gustavo Schrauf added that he joined when he heard the idea of open source seeds as an alternative to intellectual property restrictions, thinking “I want to be part of that construction.” “From the Faculty we have put our little brick and now we are many; many more than those of us who are here,” he recounted. “We are working on this because we are convinced that being able to appropriate seeds will generate a different world”. And he closed: “As Milton said, what we do is what we are. Let us do things that enrich us”.
Finally, Anabel Marín, director of Bioleft, closed: “We believe very much in civil society; when it manages to organize itself and generate alternatives, it is very powerful, and Argentina is a leader in this. Bioleft is an example of how to articulate civil society; that when we unite and work together, things move. We are generating something that is taking more shape with the efforts of each one of us”. And he rounded off the general objectives of the common work: “to preserve seed as a common good, to counteract an increasingly restrictive market system and to support a more sustainable and healthy agriculture”.
With this in mind, we invite all participants to collaborate with Bioleft in multiple ways: making seeds available for participatory testing, testing seeds and registering and sharing information, testing Bioleft’s digital platform or in multiple other ways that may arise: Bioleft is a collective construction where everyone opens new doors to collaboration. For example, towards the end, Mariana Kandus, an agronomist, commented that she is working on a variety of sweet corn, which could be a new open seed for collaborative testing; and Pablo introduced Federico Chipriani, who will collaborate in the development of the platform. Any collaboration proposal is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The end was with music, to celebrate the meeting and the joint work for the common good.