Thursday, November 22, 2007

SEED Initiative Promotes Biodiversity and Sustainable Development

image Most of us are probably unaware of where the ubiquitous potato originated, much less that more than 5,000 varieties can be identified in its ancestral homeland in the Andes Mountains.

But that could be changing through the work of an organization in Peru called T'ikapapa, which is linking small potato growers to specialty markets not only in the Andean region, but internationally.

SEED Partnerships

T'ikapapa is one of five winners of an international award that stresses the principles of innovative partnerships, sustainable development, and biodiversity protection.

The SEED Initiative (Supporting Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development) is a multi-stakeholder partnership that grew out of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. One key mandate that came out of Johannesburg was to translate a set of global milestones known as the U.N. Millennium Development Goals into community-based action.

SEED's founding partners include: IUCN - World Conservation Union, the NGO Swiss Re, major United Nations offices such as the Environment Program, Development Program, and Global Compact – as well as the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Along with T'ikapapa, the other 2007 winners are:

  • A Vietnamese association of local businesses and community groups, called Bridging the Gap, which is developing products for herbal healing from plants grown by ethnic minorities in the highlands.
  • A coalition of NGOs and private sector organizations, Projeto Bagamen, which has created a unique program of community-based, eco-tourism for youth groups in parts of the Amazon basin and northern Brazil.
  • A partnership that is reintroducing native cereal and tuber crops, as well as organic farming techniques, in the Andean regions of Ecuador that are marketed by a women's organization.
  • An alliance in Sierra Leone comprising local authorities, traditional healers, and Njala University that is combining alternative medicine with a modern resort called the Tiwai Island Traditional Health and Fitness Village.

Two of the SEED winners – T'ikapapa's potato project in Peru and Bridging the Gap's herbal healing in Vietnam – are finalists in Global Challenge 2007, where people vote online for their favorite sustainable development project. (Global Challenge is sponsored by BBC World; its Web site is: http://www.theworldchallenge.co.uk/index.php.)

Sustainable Support

Unlike the more typical pattern, the SEED Awards don't mark the end of the process, but the beginning for these new and evolving partnerships. All five will now receive a 12-month program of support services designed, according to SEED, "to turn them from a good project into a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable partnership."

Even established businesses face difficulties bringing a new product to market, writes Ross Andrews, head of the SEED secretariat, in a U.N. newsletter, UN-Business Focal Point. "Imagine, then, the obstacles faced by a social entrepreneur in the developing world," he says.

But with effective support, Andrews points out, "evidence shows that such locally led, multi-stakeholder initiatives can be highly successful since they are rooted in the priorities and needs of local people, and bring together the relevant skills and knowledge that are suited to the local circumstances."

One of SEED's strengths is its ability to marshal those skills and knowledge from its many global partners and their respective networks of expertise and other resources.

"Perhaps the most valuable contribution that we can make is simply to facilitate contacts at the local, national, and international levels," says Helen Marquard, executive director of the SEED Initiative.

Potatoes, Plants, and Tourists

In the case of T'ikapapa, SEED is playing just such a networking role, according to Kurt Manrique, who represents two of T'ikapapa's partners, the Andina Initiative and the International Potato Center.

"The most important contribution that the SEED partners are providing is to pave the way for the introduction of native potato products to the international market," he says.

Marquard agrees. "T'ikapapa is hoping to break through with its native potatoes into international markets over the coming year, and is looking particularly to the United States," she says.

Marketing will be vital in Vietnam as well, where a private company and the Sa Pa Indigenous Medicinal Plants Association extract oils from several indigenous plants to make massage balms and soaps.

Moreover, the community will retain the intellectual property rights to its products, which have been used for generations by the H'mong and Dao peoples to treat flu symptoms, muscle and joint aches and pains, and to relieve insect bites.

For Brazil's Projeto Bagamen, "the idea is to promote local development through an activity that is run by the residents themselves," says co-founder Monica Keel in an interview with the W.K Kellogg Foundation.

"In addition to the visibility that comes with the award," she observes, "the strategic and technical support that we will receive over the next 12 months will be crucial.... This support will give us an important base to develop this new phase securely and wisely. The motto now is growth with quality."

At a recent SEED workshop in Pretoria that brought together the 2005 and 2007 winners, Helen Marquard says, "Many of the 2005 winners said the award's greatest value had simply been to open doors to partners and resources that had been closed before. Now they had a recognized status and position that has allowed them move forward."

At a recent award ceremony in Ecuador, U.S. Ambassador Linda Jewell congratulated Seed Winner “Grupo Nueva Vida” (New Life Group). Ambassador Jewell noted that that, “this award supports more than just another micro enterprise; it will improve the quality of life of poor rural Ecuadorians in Chimborazo.”

Daniel Reifsynder, Chairman of the SEED Board of Directors and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment and Sustainable Development, sees the SEED partnerships as exemplifying how commitments can be translated into concrete, meaningful action.

"The SEED winners represent many different cultures and activities," he says, "but all of them encompass the three critical pillars of sustainable development – economic development, environmental stewardship, and social development," he said.

For more information, see the following:

SEED Initiative

State Department's Sustainable Development

State Department Fact Sheet on Sustainable Development

Listing of U.S. Government Web sites on Sustainable Development

SEED Initiative Promotes Biodiversity and Sustainable Development