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Strengthening agroecological resilience through commons-based seed governance in the Philippines

The Filipino agricultural sector is exposed to multiple climatic, economic, and social risks that will likely intensify in the near future. Building agroecological resilience has been proposed to protect small-scale farmers’ livelihoods and improve food security in the context of (unexpected) shocks and disruptions, and slow system changes such as climate change. This paper argues that commons-based seed production, based on collective management and ownership of seeds and varieties, can play a central role in building resilience capacities in smallholder communities. The author explores this by applying an indicator-based framework to assess the contribution of the Filipino farmer network Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) to agroecological resilience.

The author finds that the networks’ commons-based seed governance builds agroecological resilience in various ways. By equipping small-scale farmers with the tools to regain control over seed production and breeding, they become stewards of an actively evolving collection of varieties. The in-situ maintenance and development of traditional, open-pollinated varieties and a network of diversified trial and backup farms build up buffering capacities and foster agrobiodiversity and local adaptation. A focus on regionally available natural resources reduces vulnerabilities to external factors. Adaptive capacities are strengthened through a high degree of flexibility and responsiveness achieved by self-organization and polycentric organizational structures. Broad participation, shared learning and spaces for experimentation support the development of farmers’ capacities to respond to diverse challenges. Commons-based approaches to seed governance can thus strengthen agroecological resilience and long-term food security in smallholder agricultural systems. 

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