Seed Programs International

We like to share success stories, struggles, recipes, gardening tips, and the latest examples of our work with our supporters. But as the peak season for charitable donation is upon us, you might be wishing for clear answers to some more basic questions that help complete the picture of SPI. Donating to our work (or that of any non-profit organization) is an act of great trust; being stewards of that trust is a responsibility that we take seriously. So, call or email anytime with questions. In the meantime, these are a few of the questions we get asked the most:

I know you send vegetable seeds and support training all over the world so that people can grow gardens, but how do you choose where to partner up and send seeds?

SPI engages with and helps build the strength of local people and communities. Local people understand their own culture, context, and priorities best. So most of all we’re looking for effective, emerging, respected, and respectful leadership. Sometimes people and organizations here in the US and Canada have already identified such leaders, and can help them access SPI seed. Other times, small organizations in Africa, the Caribbean, and other regions find us online or through a past SPI partner. Once we’re established in one part of a country, we may deliberately seek out other effective partnerships nearby.  

Where does the seed come from . . . and is it genetically modified (GMO)?
Because we ship hundreds of thousands of packets a year, the smaller companies who sell direct to the public are not our seed donors. Many of the companies that donate seed to us are working behind the scenes growing seed that in the end gets packaged under other brand names. Two examples are Condor Seed Production, an Arizona company, and Sakata, a Japanese seed company with a US office in California.

SPI does not provide any GMO seed. We don’t work with grains like corn and rice; for almost all the types of vegetables we offer, there are no GMO types in existence. For a couple (such as squash and eggplant) there a few GMO types. We are never offered these varieties, nor would we accept them if we were — import is not allowed in many of our destination countries.

How big is your budget and how much of it goes to programs? Will my donation be used efficiently, without waste? Our budget for 2017 is about $250,000. You can download our tax return and our audited financials from our website. Our CEO compensation appears on page 7 of the tax return. Page 10 shows that expense percentages were 89.7% for programs vs.10.3% for administration and fundraising.

For how many years do you send seed to the same place?
We don’t think sending seeds thousands of miles from the US is a good long-term solution. Whether a project is focused on crisis recovery, income, basic nutrition, resilience to disaster, or any other goal, it is important for SPI to start partnerships with an end in mind. Our goal is to work with our partners to help seed growers and recipients achieve self-sufficiency. Sometimes this is through seed saving. More often our partners’ work is to achieve a heightened interest in growing, eating, and selling vegetables. Once that is in place, there is personal and financial motivation for program partners or seed recipients to connect with vegetable seed sellers in their own region. 

How are you funded?
People like you are essential to our work! Currently we pay our bills with a ratio of just about 1/3 grants from charitable foundations, 1/2 donations from individuals and businesses, and the rest from contributions to seed cost by our partners. (When we provide seed for better-resourced partners like the UN World Food Program or US-based church group, we charge them a small amount per packet to help cover our cost.)

Can I give you seed that I saved, or my leftover seed packets?
Unfortunately, no, for a couple of reasons. First, we are careful to select varieties that will grow well in tropical areas where most malnourished people live. Many common vegetable garden varieties from the US would not do well. Second, to meet the strict import laws of some countries, seeds are inspected by the USDA to be free of pests, diseases, invasive weed seed, etc. If we gathered seeds from many small sources, we could not pass these inspections.


enza zadenEnza Zaden is an innovative, international vegetable breeder and seed producer based in the region known as “seed valley” in The Netherlands. Enza’s US headquarters is in Salinas, California.

Enza Zaden and SPI are for-profit and not-for-profit companies, yet we share very similar goals. “Our primary aim is to grant people anywhere in the world access to healthy, varied vegetables,” is Enza’s pledge. They achieve that by breeding varieties that require fewer crop inputs, are resistant to diseases, and that can be grown in places where very few vegetable cropping choices are otherwise available. To back up the seed, Enza staff provide technical assistance to growers and remote distributors in order to get the most benefit from their varieties.

As a generous supporter of SPI’s work via cash donation, Enza Zaden is putting extra muscle into their core beliefs. While Enza uses a sustainable business model to reach emerging small farmers in economically developing regions, SPI is providing similar services to people who can’t afford seeds at all, are too isolated to reach seed sources, and/or have been touched by crises and disasters. As conditions improve and SPI’s local partners work to strengthen their communities, SPI seed users can become customers of Enza Zaden and other seed companies, many of whom are working hard to extend the availability of good vegetable seed throughout the word.

There are still 800 million people in our world who don’t have enough nutrition to lead a healthy life. To solve a problem this big, we need all hands on deck working together: businesses, charities, individual supporters of all faiths and backgrounds, and people striving to improve their own communities. Thank you, Enza Zaden, for joining us in this work.

droughtThe Horn of Africa has always included arid regions that are drought-prone. Droughts come and go with El Niño weather patterns; local people adapt and develop centuries-old strategies to persist through crisis. East Africans are survivors. But things are different now. The drought experienced in 2016-2017 is unprecedented -- many have died, 800,000 children under 5 are severely undernourished, and the lives of 20 million people are threatened. The other difference now is our media environment. Those of us old enough to remember the 1984-1985 drought will recall it was the year’s biggest news story, We are the World was a #1 pop hit, and donations were generous. Today, news cycles are so short and information flow so overwhelming that only 15% of Americans are even aware that this famine event exists. We encourage you to read the links shared here and tell others via social media or via good old-fashioned conversation.

A community garden organized by GrowEastAfrica.

If you’re moved to help, consider supporting SPI. We work to provide drought-smart gardens that support community-led drought recovery in Ethiopia, northern Kenya, and Somalia.

You can read about some of our work with diasporan-led SPI partner GrowEastAfrica, who focuses on the Burji District of Southern Ethiopia.

Read about GrowEastAfrica’s work in the Burji District of Southern Ethiopia →


Our partner Pop Atz’iaq has taken the lead on the processes of mobilizing our women’s groups, field work, documentation, and addressing the many challenges faced by women in San Cristobal and the near by villages, and our original women’s group in Chajul.

Pop Atz’iaq's strength lies in their ability to help women recognize their skills, experience, and capacities. SPI’s partnership with Pop Atz’iaq makes it possible for participating women to receive training and access to resources for gardening, handicraft production, and business training for women who have the desire to start or improve their businesses. Business training includes human development and women’s empowerment themes, business management, marketing, finances, accounting, sales, customer service and social responsibility to their culture and communities.

Contact Us

Seed Programs International

PO Box 9163
Asheville, NC 28815


Seed Programs Canada (Affiliate)

Registered Charity No. 839858107RR0001
Lombardy, ON

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Seed Programs International (SPI)

Seed Programs InternationalSeed Programs International (SPI) is a non-profit, tax exempt, non-governmental humanitarian organization.

We work thorough other humanitarian organizations, church groups, service clubs and individual donors, to provide quality seed to impoverished communities in developing countries enabling them to grow some of their own food. In addition to seed, SPI provides critical seed expertise and experience operating seed based self help programs.”

SPI is operated by individuals with over 50 years seed industry experience plus over 20 years experience in vegetable research and production. We also have 15 years experience operating programs that have successfully shipped seed to over 70 countries on five continents. SPI has shipped enough seed to plant over 1,000,000 vegetable gardens, providing more than 20 kinds of vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals often missing in people’s diets.