Now that the U.S. Virgin Islands has experienced the impacts of climate change and contended with record-breaking hurricanes, legislators have begun making food security a priority with the proposal of the territory’s first seed-banking program.
Sen. Samuel Carriόn sponsored the bill, which doesn’t fund the construction of a seed-banking facility, but instead would require the Department of Agriculture and the University of the Virgin Islands to create a plan of what it would take for the territory to begin banking seeds.
“Questions like the cost, what types of seeds, who would be involved, we would come together with all the specifics that are needed and then create the plan,” Carriόn said during an Economic Development and Agriculture Committee held Wednesday,
The purpose of the legislation is to bring together all applicable entities, or the “architects” and “experts” Carriόn said, to brainstorm what is needed to “conserve local varieties and rare varieties for their genetic diversity,” “restore native varieties that have disappeared,” and create a sort of “library” for farmers.
The university’s School of Agriculture Director Usman Adamu said to create such a plan would consist of many moving parts, but the focus should be on establishing a community seed bank to “reduce over-dependence on company-sourced seeds” and “motivate concerted research in, and the development of locally adapted varieties.”
Adamu said because the territory accounts for a “very small market,” there is “very little financial incentive for dedicated and ongoing seed company research.” This research is vital to the success and sustainability of the local species of seeds which adapt to the specific climate and environment in the territory. Without a seed bank, the territory would be reliant on company-sourced seeds, much like happened in Nepal, which actively demonstrated what can occur when a country’s (or territory’s) food systems collapse.
To combat these types of food security travesties Adamu said he would suggest one of two options. Either the territory builds two separate community seed banks ensuring duplication of all seeds or have one community seed bank and utilize the United States Department of Agriculture’s Germplasm Resources Information Network to store the duplicate collection.
The plan would also need to include the creation of a committee to discern what seeds to store, Adamu said. Some of these seed varieties could include tamarind, guava berry, lemon grass, and passion fruit.
Additionally, Adamu said the plan would need to specify the criteria of building a location suitable to store the seeds. For a location to be deemed suitable it would need to satisfy a lengthy set of criteria, including an ability to keep cool temperatures and regulate moisture, a high elevation to avoid flooding, and a site with reliable electricity and adequate rainfall.
Most importantly, a plan of this magnitude will need funding. “A committed, long-term investment is necessary to ensure the success of the seed bank. The collections are valuable, and their maintenance is critically important,” Adamu said.
All members present at the hearing – Senators Gittens, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Javan E. James Sr., Dwayne M. DeGraff and Novelle E. Francis Jr. – voted in support of the measure and forwarded it to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
The need for seed banking is a pressing one, according to a Community Food Systems Assessment conducted in 2019 by the Iowa State University Food Systems Team. The assessment was paid for through Federal Emergency Management Agency recovery funds and conducted with support organizations like Good Food Coalition on St. Croix, local farmers, businesses, and select individuals with precise knowledge of the community’s food systems.
The document was released in 2020 and is available for the public to view by visiting the team’s website.