The basic element for the construction of the practice is the determination of the existence of the phenomenon known worldwide as "genetic erosion", which in its broadest sense is the loss of components of the species genetic heritage and, consequently, the loss of cultural values of agricultural communities. In the face of this scenario, the team of the "Creole Seeds" Project at the Embrapa Clima Temperado – together with the Emater/RS (official agency for rural extension of the state of Rio Grande do Sul) and the Federal University of Pelotas – has elaborated a plan to identify seed keepers, who are the farmers who keep the different creole seeds. The aim was to characterize them to define their identity, having as a horizon the application of public policies for the protection and promotion of these farmers. 

Through the implementation of the plan, since 2010: (1) seven seminars have been held, one of which was international; (2) about 200 creole seeds keepers have been identified; (3) more than 70 seeds fairs have been held; (4) five training centers for junior keepers have been created; (5) 12 nuclei of seed keepers have been mapped in several regions of the state; and (6) the mutual participation of keepers from different regions have been characterized at seed exchange fairs, reflecting the desired approximation among them.


A - General information


START: April 2007 (in progress)

EXECUTING ENTITIES: Embrapa Clima Temperado

CO-EXECUTING ENTITIES: Rio Grande do Sul's Technical Support and Rural Extension Projects Association - EMATER/RS

PARTNERS: UNAIC - Union of Community Associations of Canguçu's Countryside; COOPERAL Regional Settlers Cooperative; COOPAR - Cooperative of the Small Farmers of the South Region; COOAFAN - Northern Cooperative of Family Farmers; MPA - Small Farmers Movement, COONATERRA - Land and Life National Agroecological Cooperative - Bionatur; City Government of Rio Grande City;  AGABIO-Biodiversity Keepers Association of Tenente Portela; Emater/RS; Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply - MAPA; Ministry of Agrarian Development - MDA; - IRGA Rio Grande's Rice Institute; UFPEL Federal University of Pelotas and UFSM Federal University of Santa Maria.

SUBMITTED BY: Irajá Ferreira Antunes

RESOURCES:  Proprietary and third parties

VALUE RANGE: Above US$25,000 

CATEGORY: Project 

MAIN THEME AREA: Food and Nutrition Security

KEYWORDS: Agriculture, food security, socio-productive inclusion, sustainability, creole seeds, seed guardians, Embrapa Temperate Climate, genetic resources, farmers, consumers, plant breeding

TARGET AUDIENCE: Family farmers, agrarian reform settled families, indigenous peoples, quilombolas, urban citizens, researchers, farmers associations, cooperatives, farmer representative entities, rural school students, city governments, universities and research institutions.

LOCATION: Rural area 

GEOGRAPHICAL SCOPE: Rio Grande do Sul State

SPECIFIC AREA OF IMPLEMENTATIONO: Municipalities of Mostardas, Caçapava, Cerrito, Tenente Portela, Miraguaí, Barra do Ribeiro, Canguçu, Tapes, Camaquã, Caxias do Sul, Bento Gonçalves, Garibaldi, Santa Cruz do Sul, Candelária, Morro Redondo, São José do Norte, Tavares, Capão do Leão, Piratini, Canguçu, Ibarama, Rio Grande, Candiota, Capivari do Sul, Santa Rosa, Palmitinho, Vista Alegre, Taquaruçu do Sul, Novo Hamburgo (district of Lomba Grande), Mampituba, Ipê, Frederico Westphalen, Venâncio Aires, Cerro Largo, Panambi, Morro Redondo and São Lourenço do Sul.


B - Description of the practice



Historically, humanity sustenance in terms of food security depends on the use of the creole seeds. Since the advent of modern agriculture – which began after World War II, a change in the use of different seeds began to occur. Farmers began to assimilate seeds species developed by a growing seed industry, abandon the traditional ones – many of them were lost. In Embrapa Clima Temperado, the understanding of the richness present in these seed species, together with the perception of this significant loss, gave rise to the "Creole Seeds Project", in 2007. The project aims to study the agroeconomic, functional and nutritional aspects, as well as the sociocultural relationships of seed species which are important for Brazilian people's diet, namely beans, corn, pumpkins, cucumber, cowpea, onion, sweet potato, peanuts, manioc and peppers.

In this context, the figure of the "guardian of seeds" emerged as the one that preserves the creole seeds varieties. It was then evident that it is fundamental to understand this figure, in the search for his/her identity, simultaneously contributing, as a consequence, to a greater food security. As a result, it has been found that the seed keeper is old, isolated and usually without heirs. These facts endanger the future of creole seeds varieties, thus weakening the food safety issue. The need for the establishment of tools to support the keepers has emerged and once it is set it will contribute to the consolidation of food security processes.



To promote food and nutritional security based on the identification and valuation of the creole seeds keeper, the agent of preservation of the patrimonial wealth that represent the creole varieties.

Specific objectives:

  • Identifying seed keepers, based on a concept developed in partnership with representative organizations of family farmers;
  • Enhancing the understanding of his/her identity by characterizing it;
  • Promoting the establishment of associations that hosts them;
  • Promoting the qualification of new keepers based on the engagement of young people, mainly farmer's children;
  • Promoting their participation in seed fairs aiming at expanding agrobiodiversity through the exchange of seeds, and achieving their recognition by society, thus contributing to the solidification of food security. 



The solution found was initially promoting meetings that allowed to characterize the farmers who have as a daily practice the conservation of the creole or traditional seed varieties. In 2010, at the Embrapa Clima Temperado Lowland Station, a pioneering meeting was held bringing together representatives of these farmers, among them the Cooperativa Coonaterra/Bionatur, the Small Farmers' Movement (MPA) and the Union of Community Associations of Canguçu's Countryside (UNAIC). The preliminary conceptual formulation was preceded by discussions that involved controversial situations due to the need to distinguish the farmer who maintains the creole seed from those who cultivate seeds varieties without this purpose. After that, the suggestion of the term "seed keepers" was presented to identify them.

Then, the need to better know the reality lived by these farmers arose. It was necessary to understand, among other elements, their age; ethnicity; their distribution in the territorial space of the state; their motivations to maintain of agrobiodiversity; their relations with other keepers; their economic condition; the quantity and variability of the creole seeds they maintain and the species to which they are associated; the social context to which the keepers belongs; their exchange relationships; their needs, etc. It was about understanding the nature of the keeper.

After starting the studies that aimed at knowing the sociocultural reality in which they are inserted, the search for these seed keepers in the communities of Rio Grande do Sul was performed. This stage counted on the collaboration of Emater/RS and the keepers themselves, having as principle the recognition of the communities in which they are inserted. In the following phase, the process of approaching the keepers was fostered having the Agrobiodiversity and Food Safety Seminar as an aggregating element – which became an annually held event at Embrapa Clima Temperado, in Pelotas, RS. The keeper is now a protagonist and its identity has started to be built.

In the process of building the keepers' identity, academic works were developed involving master's dissertations and doctoral theses, which involved regular visits to the keepers' properties. One of the main focuses was the understanding of the reasons that led the farmer to become a seeds keeper. Likewise, the building started from the knowledge acquired during the Agrobiodiversity and Food Security Seminars, both by the by the keepers lecturing and through the debates and dialogues that took place in these meetings.

Finally, efforts were focused on encouraging the creation of organized keepers groups and the holding of Seed Fairs where knowledge and, especially, seeds which are part of their cultural traditions could be shared. During this stage, rural schools whose students had already started the learning process of the seed keepers ruling principles – becoming a "young seed keeper" – started participating in the Seminars. The practice reported herein underwent a development process that has been following the Agrobiodiversity and Food Security Seminars – which in 2016 got to its sixth edition – in parallel to other meetings and Creole Seed Fairs that have been held throughout the state of Rio Grande do Sul.



The results achieved by the implementation of the strategies reported herein, through research projects involving creole seeds and their keepers, are detailed as follows:

  • Identification of more than 200 keepers located in all regions of Rio Grande do Sul;
  • Identification of the ethnic groups that concentrate seed keepers: (1) quilombola - in the municipalities of Mostardas, Caçapava and Cerrito; (2) Guarani and Kaingang (indigenous) - in the municipalities of Tenente Portela, Miraguaí, Barra do Ribeiro, Canguçu, Tapes, Camaquã; (3) Italian - mainly concentrated in the state's mountain region, in municipalities such as Caxias do Sul, Ibarama, Passa Sete, Bento Gonçalves and Garibaldi; (4) German - in Santa Cruz do Sul, Sinimbu, Candelária, Novo Hamburgo and Morro Redondo; (5) Azorean, mainly in the South Shore, in municipalities such as São José do Norte, Tavares and Mostardas; and (6) Portuguese, in Capão do Leão, Piratini, Canguçu and several other municipalities;
  • Identification and organization/guidance of the formal seed keepers nuclei. Among the formal organizations there are: Associação dos Guardiões da Agrobiodiversidade de Tenente Portela (Agrobiodiversity Keepers Association of Tenente Portela), in the region of Alto Uruguai; Associação dos Agricultores Guardiões de Sementes de Ibarama (Seeds Keepers Farmers Association of Ibarama); Associação dos Guardiões do Município de Rio Grande (Keepers Association of Rio Grande); Bionatur-Coonaterra, entity constituted by agrarian reform settled farmers, members of the Landless Workers Movement, which produces agroecological seeds and comprises farmers from five municipalities of Rio Grande do Sul, also operating in the state of Minas Gerais;
  • Identification and organization/guidance of the formal nuclei of seeds keepers: in the South Coast region, covering the municipalities of São José do Norte, Tavares, Mostardas and Capivari do Sul; in the Northwest, comprising the region under the influence of Santa Rosa; in the Missões region, the municipalities of Palmitinho, Vista Alegre, Taquaruçu do Sul, and in the municipalities of Novo Hamburgo (Lomba Grande District), Mampituba, Candelária and Ipê;
  • Hosting of more than 70 fairs. In the year 2015 alone there were 20 fairs of creole seeds. The agrobiodiversity product fairs in urban areas are also contemplated, confirming the understanding the keepers and the rural communities have absorbed on the importance of the creole seeds and the principles of agroecology, usually associated with them, and of their relationships with the urban environment. Most of these initiatives have been created after the beginning of the Agrobiodiversity and Food Safety Seminars, probably based on the awareness acquired in this participation and protagonism environment the Seminars provide. It is worth mentioning the agroecological fairs held for the first time in 2015, in the municipalities of Tenente Portela and Rio Grande, in addition to the creole seeds fairs of Frederico Westphalen, Rio Grande, Venâncio Aires, Cerro Largo and Panambi, all in their first edition;
  • Sharing between farmers and seed keepers of various creole seed species. It was observed a significant variety of food species being used by farmers in the several seeds fairs, from which stands out beans, corn and pumpkins, but also variety of various vegetable species such as tomatoes, lettuce and onions, among others;
  • Participation of farmers from multiple regions in the seeds fairs, which suggests a response to the understanding acquired in the Seminars on the reality and perspectives of the creole seeds production;
  • Growth of the self-esteem of the keepers farmers that took place throughout during the Seminars and during which the protagonism assigned to the keepers implies the recognition by part of the society of the important role they play; This evaluation was made from the statements in interviews, as well as from the keepers' laid back behavior during the events they participated;
  • Since 2011, the Agrobiodiversity and Food Security Seminar has been held annually and in 2016 it reached its sixth edition. With about 400 participants, it gathers keepers, mostly farmers, revealing the efficiency of the adopted methodology. During the events, the keepers of diverse ethnic groups (indigenous, quilombolas, Germans, Italians, Portuguese) have been protagonists of lectures reporting their realities and their relations with the creole seeds;
  • From the IV Seminar in 2014 on, a document of recognition (certificate) was granted to the farmers identified as "Seeds Keepers" present at the event;
  • Creation of five training centers for junior keepers in the municipalities of Ibarama, Tenente Portela, Canguçu, Santa Cruz and São Lourenço do Sul. 

The results achieved – within an evolutionary process of building the identity of the Seeds Keepers – make it possible to confirm that the awareness about the importance of being a keepers, as well as the sharing of the creole seeds in the seminars and seeds fairs, allow to identify a favorable scenario towards greater food security by increasing the conservation capacity of these seeds varieties, which can be translated as an effective contribution to a more sustainable agriculture.



Human Resources: 10 researchers qualified in genetic improvement, seed technology, technology transfer, genetic resources and food chemistry; 08 scholarship students from the undergraduate program, master's and doctorate; 50 rural extension technicians, comprising several municipalities involved in the practice; 04 teachers from four rural schools and 05 ancillary employees from Embrapa; 

Material resources:  Venue for the annual seminar; 02 screened canvas for seeds multiplication; 01 or more vehicles for the transport of the farmers to fairs and the Seminars;  Feeding during the events for the participating farmers; Venues for Fairs. These venues are a responsibility of the local farmers' organizations, always with the support of Embrapa and Emater and, occasionally, of the local cities governments.  



The practice has been established since 2010, from the meeting of the farmers' representing entities, in which the concept parameters for the seeds keepers were identified. From that meeting it was also established the need – applying the parameters that characterize the keepers – to identify them and to bring them together, which was materialized with the creation of the event called Agrobiodiversity and Food Safety Seminar, with the first being held on September 1st, 2011 and thereafter annually. The seminar, by great participation of keepers farmers, worked as an incentive, as the starting point for several meetings being held related to the theme "creole seeds" such as those held in 2015: the Agrobiodiversity Exhibition/Encruzilhada do Sul; 2nd Exhibition of Agrobiodiversity, Tenente Portela; 1st Creole Seeds Fair of Rio Grande, Rio Grande; 1st Regional Fair of Family Farming, Family Agroindustry, Crafts and Biodiversity of Frederico Westphalen; 1st Mission Fair of Cerro Largo and Opening of the Onion Harvest/Local Food Agrobiodiversity Exhibition of São José do Norte. These meetings worked, therefore, as a unifying elements of the keepers of creole seeds at the regional level.

The process of building the identity of the keeper, as well as of their representation, is in continuous improvement and the growth of the public involved and with new demands coming from the groups involved generated other necessities that have been gradually equalized. For example, the transport of the keepers to the events venues required a logistics planning. The same happened in terms of lodging and food. Likewise, it was the involvement of the keepers and of the invited speakers that demanded an in-depth reflection on making the events more effective in the process of creating keepers' associative entities. 



The great learning on the part of Embrapa was the understanding that the interactive process with the keepers is fundamental in the correct guidance of the efforts destined to the maintenance of agrobiodiversity, including the adjacent cultural heritage. The sharing of the creole seeds varieties, as already reported; the approach among keepers groups; the socialization of the experiences of the different groups; the growth of the number of keepers involved in the various meetings and the existence of an annual forum (the Seminars) to collectively discuss the issues related to the keepers' own activities, among others, ensure the success of the established practice.

In terms of target public, mainly the seeds keepers, the most relevant aspect is the self-awareness about the relevance of the role that the keeper plays, thus raising their self-esteem. This is a fundamental aspect since it has implications for the continuity of the processes of creole seeds conservation as it directly influences the farmers' children, leading them to glimpse the possibility of living in the same environment as their parents, from the cultivation of the same seeds and generating income from them. The process of building keepers identity is permanent. A significant level of growth has already been achieved. Nowadays, keepers are more independent and it allows them to demand a better quality of life once they see their seeds are valued by society, which directly leads to the maintenance and expansion of the agrobiodiversity and of the cultural heritage and, consequently, to greater food security.

The efforts for the characterization "seed keepers" farmers have revealed the complexity of the context in which they live. A fundamental and unanimous point is the fact that in order to be a keeper it is necessary the recognition of the community of which him or her is part. At the same time, there are keepers who, by their nature, by vocation, keep a great number of seeds varieties. As an example, a rice seeds keeper from Rio Grande do Sul keeps a collection of 38 seeds varieties. On the other hand, there are keepers who keep only one, or a few seeds varieties. It also happens with cowpea varieties on the South Coast of Rio Grande do Sul. There are keepers who preserve the seeds varieties as a matter of family tradition, by inheritance, while there are those who preserve them for their economic significance, since they constitute an important source of income. Another characteristic that was confirmed from the pioneering meeting of 2010 is the aging of the keepers and the almost total absence of direct heirs. Such a scenario qualifies the assumptions adopted for the practice, as they anticipate the need – by valuing the creole seeds – to value and protect also the keeper, the one who has kept them throughout the centuries.

One of the hindrances of this practice is the difficulty of bringing the keepers of Rio Grande do Sul together since they are spread throughout all regions. Their transport for a determined site implies costs which require great efforts and little chances of obtaining the resources to cover them. However, as pointed out, the sacrifices that have been faced by the teams involved in the organization of the seminars and even by the keepers themselves have been highly rewarded by the results achieved. The good results can be verified in a more diverse cultivation genetics, which comes from the seeds exchange that take place in several events. It results in greater food security and also in the increase of family income, which leads to an improved quality of live for seeds keeper.



This is an original practice without similar initiatives identified in the region.




Visits: any time of the year, no limited number of visitors. For a better service, it is recommended to schedule the visit beforehand with the technical coordinator of the project. 

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