The Cradle of Civilization, the birthplace of agriculture, is a part of the world that today struggles for its sovereignty. In Palestine, climate change, Israeli occupation, and the multinational agriculture leviathans like Monsanto have posed serious challenges to those who still till the land as it has been done for millennia. Concerned farmers and activists have joined together to form the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, which aims to preserve traditional Palestinian agriculture, its culture, and its crops.
To be formally established in June, the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library will join with a seed bank previously established for the purpose of increasing the income of Palestinian farmers and preserving the crop varieties they cultivate. The Seed Library was conceived by Vivien Sansour, who was inspired to create a seed bank in her home country after her experiences in Mexico. “I was away from Palestine for a long time,” says Sansour. “While I was away, what I remembered were the smells and tastes. When I came back, I realized that what I remembered was under threat and disappearing.”
Related: Israeli military admits to spraying crop-killing herbicides in Gaza
Traditional Palestinian agriculture was rooted in family-assigned garden plots and a multi-cropping system that was finely tuned to seasonal changes. The seeds to be saved include varieties of cucumber, mallow, and watermelon. “There is a kind of huge watermelon, known as jadu’i, that was grown in the northern West Bank. Before 1948, it was exported around the region. It was famous in places like Syria. It has almost disappeared. One of the most exciting discoveries so far is that we found some seeds for it. They are seven years old, so we need to see if they are viable.”
To Sansour, the project is about more than preserving the terroir of Palestinian plants. “I realized that what was also under threat was something deeper – the connection to a sense of cultural identity. The songs women would sing in the fields. Phrases, even the words we use. So it is about preserving the local biodiversity, but it is also about the importance to Palestinian culture of traditional agricultural methods.” A key component of the project is the training of teachers to educate their students about traditional agriculture. “I wasn’t even sure what an heirloom variety was,” says science teacher Inam Owianah. “And then I understood! It wasn’t just about the seeds, but about an intimate connection to our heritage.”
Via The Guardian
Images via Hadas Parush and Svenja Oberender