Seminar - Seeding biodiversity: Japanese farmers’ seed-saving practices, values, and culture

Plummeting crop diversity threatens food system resilience globally. While across the industrial world, farmers and breeders are increasingly relying on off-farm procurement and conservation of seeds, on-farm seed saving is still critically important. Human domestication processes mean that many crops have lost their ability to reproduce by themselves, meaning on-farm seed saving is important for crop evolution and survival.

In this seminar, Ayako explores the diversity of on-farm seed saving practices, taking Japan as a case study of a highly industrialized nation. Through qualitative comparison of different actors – traditional, local, organic, and lifestyle farmers, as well as seed companies – the seminar will highlight the socio-cultural systems and diverse narratives that shaped people’s values and behavior that influence their diverse seed saving practices.

While different actors perceived seeds in various ways, from ancestral heritage items to part of a machine, they all expressed a sense of attachment to plants and likely contributes to the conservation of crop diversity. These practices were embedded in complex socio-ecological systems that is facing a dynamic change, especially the weakening of traditional family systems and greater focus on neoliberalism, leading to differing potential for their sustainability in future.


About the speaker

Ayako Kawai is a human ecologist, with a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies (Human Ecology) from the Fenner School. Her interest is in bio-cultural diversity conservation and sustainable food systems with a focus on the interaction between individuals’ attitudes and socio-cultural structures. She worked for the Satoyama Initiative program under the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies and currently is a member of the FEAST project (Lifeworlds of Sustainable Food Consumption and Production: Agrifood Systems in Transition project) under the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Japan.