Seed Programs International

Seeds for Syria

Seeds for Syria

Hello supporters!

It's been over a year since we closed this project, and I want to tell you about a few things we've learned from our experience and give you a final update about our work toward delivering seeds to Syrian refugees.

We created this project in response to an increasing need for sustainable food sources for growing communities of Syrian refugees — a need compounded by dwindling aid reserves. We knew we were shipping into a volatile area, but we have experience with negotiating difficult customs regulations and felt the demand warranted the risk. True to our partner-centric model, we were working with leading Turkish NGO Orient for Human Relief, via the US-based Karam Foundation, to better understand the situation on the ground. Paperwork in place, we were excited when we received news that the initial shipment was delivered into customs as expected.

However, as the relationship between Turkey and Syria continued to break down, the seeds were unnecessarily detained by Turkish customs. We tried everything we could think of to save the shipment, but finally accepted that the seeds would be lost. Facing this failure and uncertain about whether we would ever be able to deliver seeds to Syria, we closed the project and promised that your donations would be used to provide nutrition support for displaced Syrians.

It's always distressing when we can't get seeds to the people who desperately need them. SPI relies on our partners to support shipments and distribution and sometimes that's just not enough, especially in areas with an unstable political climate. We stand by our reliance on our partners; it's one of our greatest strengths. Going forward, we realized we would have to do more if we wanted to increase the types of tools we can use to ensure that shipments reach the right people when they're needed.

Because of this experience and others like it, SPI has expanded how we work. Over the past year, we've increasingly reached out to official embassies and have developed working relationships that can keep us informed about their country's political climate and how best to negotiate customs regulations. Further, Our Program Manager, Naima, has been collecting information about what we've learned from working with each country's import regulations. Our goal is to create a database of country profiles that can be used as a customs checklist for future shipments to ensure that seeds are delivered without incident.

We're also more deliberate about how we process requests for seed. Rather than making assumptions based on prior experience, we ask our partners and recipients to share what they know to help avoid any unnecessary delays. Finally, we've invested in identifying local sources of high-quality seed and developing relationships with those seed providers when we're unable to ship from our own inventory. It's important to us that people receive the support they need, even if it means working a little differently.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. Karam and SPI didn't give up on delivering seeds to Syrian refugees. In November 2015, Karam hand-carried seeds during a youth camp mission trip to work with refugees in Turkey. Your support, through GlobalGiving, made this possible!

P.S. Be sure to check out Seed Program International here at GlobalGiving to see what we've been up to lately!

Cucumber harvest, Mirasol, Honduras.

Cucumber harvest, Mirasol, Honduras.

Copan Department, Honduras is a mountainous region famous for its pre-Colombian archaeological site and beautiful landscapes. But in late 2015, the government of Copan declared a famine emergency as ongoing drought led to widespread loss of three most important crops for income and nutrition: corn, beans, and coffee. In this context, fresh vegetables grown in gardens at home (where scarce water is carried anyway) provide essential nutrition and income. Back in Spring, we reported that seeds were on the way to the Copan region in the care of Rotarians from Asheville, North Carolina. The results: greater than we could have imagined!

It Takes a Team

Here’s the amazing story of how SPI seeds reach families in Copan:

  • Dozens of people, businesses, and Rotary clubs in western North Carolina contribute to the Rotarians Against Hunger (RAH) program. RAH packs meals for local food banks AND sends seeds to Rotary-linked projects worldwide.
  • This Rotary support is matched by people like you who gave via GlobalGiving to support these seeds reaching people in need. 
  • The Rotary Club of Copan Ruinas, Honduras applies to receive seeds from the RAH program. They work with local charities like Mennonite Social Action Committee to design a training plan and choose seeds that are appropriate to local gardeners’ culture and purposes.
  • Members of the Rotary Club of Asheville carry the seeds to Copan on their annual trip that also includes dental and eye care clinics.
  • Mennonite Social Action Committee distributes the seeds, along with training, to those most motivated families in the region.

The Harvest

190 families in 15 villages received seeds for vegetables including mustard greens, spinach, carrots, onions, and squash. Training was provided on topics ranging from terracing the steep land, to planting and transplanting technique, to organic fertilizer sources. In the end, our program partners actually counted and weighed the harvest:

  • 30,000 bunches mustard greens
  • 20,000 carrots
  • 6,500 pounds green beans
  • 60,000 cucumbers
  • 6,000 bunches spinach
  • 4,500 bunches onion
  • 30,000 squash
  • 50,000 bunches radish

What a tremendous haul—credit is due to the hard-working gardeners and their trainers for achieving this harvest in a time of drought and general famine.

The whole family gets involved preparing gardens.

The whole family gets involved preparing gardens.

Lofa County Group Training

Lofa County Group Training

Capacity building, community outreach, support from agricultural experts, and the establishment of information and skill sharing systems are all key components for SPI’s Ebola recovery project. At May’s stakeholder meeting, hosted by Mayor Christine Norman and REAP Liberia, self-formed and self-run groups forged a partnership to build out their own farming programs by sharing resources and skills.

“There is a need that we establish a strong network with one common goal and objective.” — Mr. Tamba - Program Director

Billa Village Women & Trained Gardener

Billa Village Women & Trained Gardener

Last month, SPI partner DBCO-Africa kicked off their pilot program to establish community vegetable gardens in Billa village and Soyama town located in Ethiopia’s Burji region. In 2014, a local conflict forced over 2,000 Ethiopian families of children, women, and elderly to flee their homelands in Mega, leaving everything behind. Although they were welcomed into Burji, they now need support to meet their basic needs and establish new livelihoods.

Education is a key component of SPI’s partnership programs with DBCO-Africa. In collaboration with Seed Programs International and local government and community leaders, DBCO is developing sustainable gardens so that less fortunate families can, through the power of their own efforts and knowledge, overcome systemic poverty.

The First Garden: Billa Village Health Post

Growing vegetables from seeds is a new venture for most of these rural women. To support their work, the District Administrator assigned a trained gardener to train and support the group in soil preparation, seed planting, and seedling cultivation. After preparing the land, the women planted carrots, kale, onions, and peppers using seeds donated with your support.

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.