Semilla Róga is an initiative in the city of Repatriación, initiated by the National Coordinator of Peasant and Indigenous Women, CONAMURI. Their goal is saving, reproducing and defending native and heirloom seeds, which they consider a birthright of native peoples in service of humanity in general.
Semilla Róga seeks to develop a process for the protection and exchange of organic and agroecological seeds, in particular to expand the production and sale of green manure. With these practices, and by providing environmental education, Semilla Róga strives to ensure a more equitable and sustainable future for all.
Alicia Amarilla, one of the leaders of the project, tells us about its principles: "Agroecology must be the way we look at the earth." When we speak of agroecology, we are talking about the commitment to obtain healthy foods in environmentally sustainable ways, recognizing and respecting the ecosystem as an integral part of agriculture. Agroecology, as both a theory and movement, necessarily involves an innovative social component, and does so while highlighting the importance of natural resource conservation, biodiversity, and human dignity.
Alicia recognizes that the conservation and propagation of native and heirloom seeds strengthens both the sovereignty and food security of a country. These activities also have important cultural value, while emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and the right to food in rural communities.
The women leading this project take great pride in the efforts of their community. Their collective commitment allows them to achieve something that is of utmost importance to them: avoiding the use of chemical pesticides in their communities and sustaining a network of diversified small and medium peasant farms. They believe that collective action through Semilla Róga and agroecological education at the Escuela de Agroecología de Caaguazú, can provide a model of sustainable practices for students from across the country and help to preserve regional biodiversity.
All of the work done by Semilla Róga is voluntary and collaborative. They finance their projects through local and national fairs where they sell agro-ecological products, including native seeds, grains, legumes, and vegetables.
Impact on the community and future generations
Approximately one hundred indigenous families and communities are the direct beneficiaries of Semilla Róga. These communities learn how to plant and propagate seedlings through sustainable farming and consumption.
Perla Álvarez is a project leader and teacher at la Escuela de Agroecología. As she explains, the school’s model consists primarily of accepting young people from across the country, and educating them in agroecological practices so that they themselves can later replicate in their own communities what they’ve learned from Semilla Róga. She tells us with pride how the students “came from Misiones, Concepción, Itapúa and Alto Paraná to study so that they can form new ‘daughter’ Semilla Rógas.” Through this expansion model, Semilla Róga creates a network of sustainable gardens built on respect for the environment throughout the country. In turn, these gardens and farms serve to feed, provide income, and generate environmental awareness for participants and their communities.
Thanks to the efforts of CONAMURI and various domestic and international partnerships, the school is free of charge for the youth that participate. Ultimately, it is through this collective structure that the organization plans to bring more products and opportunities to different parts of the country. Recently, green manure seed has become one of their most sought-after products. It can be used for soil recovery, the production of corn, and various types of beans, and represents just one of the many products of Semilla Róga.
The difference with green manure
One crucial asset of the organization - and a facet of the business that they seek to strengthen - is the commercialization of green manure seed. They currently produce velvet bean, pigeon pea, and canavalia within the community - crops that are able to improve soil physically, chemically and biologically, while also decreasing weed infestation. At the moment, these products have increasing demand in the region but there is insufficient supply.
In order to meet this growing demand, the organization is considering forming partnerships with more community stakeholders in order to scale up their sales, while also promoting the use of sustainable solutions to agricultural problems.
"Women are more willing to use agroecology to feed their own children. It is apparently a natural decision for us." Alicia Amarilla believes that there is still much work to be done to improve women's self-esteem in relation to work. She also recognizes the need to make women’s contributions more visible and for women to be recognized as farmers rather than just mothers or stay-at-home moms. Ultimately, she believes that women need to be empowered to ask for fairer prices for their products and to do so without fear of reprisal.
“A housewife can’t access loans. [Gender] stereotypes exclude us from public spaces and exclude us from opportunities. For example, when survey’s are done, survey takers automatically go to the karaí (the man), because they assume that women are ‘just housewives.’ In the end, this limits us when trying to access credit.” - Alicia Amarilla
Plans for future collaboration
With the support of Moirū, the UNDP Acceleration Laboratory, and the National Innovation Strategy (ENI), they plan to promote the production and commercialization of green manure and other grains and seeds by improving their existing infrastructure and providing technical training on agroecology and soil recovery. They also hope to obtain a trademark registration, a quality certification and to build up commercial alliances.
Connection with Moirū
The contest helped them digitize their files, write up their processes as a way to organize and make all the information visible, and to be able to connect with new ideas from people who are working on the same thing as them, following the logic of creating collectively.
Semilla Róga was initially conceived as a way to achieve food sovereignty, through conservation efforts and respect of the environment. In their stewardship of seeds, they are training and empowering a new generation of young leaders for Paraguay, and we still have much to learn from them.
To learn more about the project, visit their wendá website or their official YouTube channel.