Why are people hungry?
Poverty and unjust distribution of resources are the basic causes of hunger. Half of the people in our world live on $2 per day or less. Though most have permanent access to land, they lack the resources to make the land a productive part of sustaining their families.
Ineffective, corrupt, and/or unstable governments are one driver of poverty. For example, in 2007, Madagascar was on track to achieve Millenium Development Goals in the areas of child mortality and extreme poverty, but a 6-year period of unstable governance shackled the economy and those goals are no longer achievable (World Bank, 2015). Large populations may be forcibly driven from their homes, land, and work to make room for enterprises that benefit those in power.
Epidemics and natural disasters also drive vulnerable families into dire circumstances and erase people’s past progress toward self-reliance. In Syria, a horrible period of four years of war has driven more than 10 million people from their homes; in Uganda, the HIV epidemic has been partially responsible for a population that is 5% orphans; in Central America, extreme drought and a coffee plant fungus have eliminated a key source of income for millions, causing widespread famine.
When women or other groups have unequal access to resources, this perpetuates food shortage and poor health. One study (UN World Food Program) showed that women's education contributed 43% of the reduction in child malnutrition over time, while food availability accounted for 26%.
Why vegetable seeds?
Vegetable growing is a good fit for the needs of poor rural and peri-urban families because vegetables can be a source of both nutrition and income. The term “agrobiodiversity” refers to how wide-ranging the crops are which a population grows in their farms and gardens. Increasing agrobiodiversity boosts nutrition, income, and resiliency to disaster.
Unlike seeds for staple foods, vegetable seed supply chains are narrow—there may be few or no sources reaching remote areas where people are hungry. Seed sources are unreliable. “What’s in the package isn’t even the same species on the label,” one partner in Haiti told us.
Vegetable gardens can be transformative. Compared with other crops, the harvest is quick and diverse in nutrition. One vegetable garden can help a family move from aid dependency to self-sufficiency. One box of SPI seeds can grow 100 vegetable gardens – 5 tons of food.
Our Six-Step Approach
SPI has a time-tested method to securing good quality seed and ensuring it gets to the people who need it most. Our partners understand that after all of the effort it takes them to disperse seed to the people who need it in politically and geographically challenging conditions, the seed better be good. After all the work it takes those who are already-weakened to prepare ground and grow crops, bad seed can hurt more than it helps.
SPI uses a unique six-step approach to make sure that the seed we distribute is good seed.
STEP 1: SEED ACQUISITION
The SPI process begins with the acquisition of donated seed. SPI’s board of directors and staff leverage their strong relationships in the seed industry to secure donated seed that would otherwise be destroyed. Some of the world’s leading seed companies donate this seed with an understanding it will be used for humanitarian purposes. SPI facilitates an efficient business model built on reclamation and corporate investment.
STEP 2: SEED SELECTION
Determining what seed is suitable to plant in destination countries is key to ensuring successful outcomes for smallholder farmers. SPI’s seed experts evaluate the destination site’s climate and terrain and recommend seed that will yield a wide variety of crops. Horticulturalist Dave Bender, Ph.D., has more than 20 years of horticulture research experience to serve the needs of our partners.
STEP 3: TESTING
SPI tests its seed to ensure that it will grow and produce in the destination countries. SPI works with privately owned and accredited seed laboratories that test for germination rate and vitality. Seed that is tested and determined to be too marginal in quality for international distribution is given out in other ways or discarded. SPI ensures that a majority of seed it receives from business partners finds its way to a useful purpose.
STEP 4: PACKAGING
SPI packages seeds in individual garden packets printed in multiple languages. Instructions are printed on the back of each package on how to plant each type of seed, the amount of time it takes for the seeds to germinate, and the amount of time it takes for the plants to mature. We have printed packets in Albanian, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Haitian, Korean, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Kiswahili – but we can print in any language if requested. Small packaging allows end users to transport seed easily. Other education materials included in shipments.
STEP 5: SHIPPING
A critically important function SPI serves for its humanitarian partners is that of packaging and shipping the seed. SPI handles the packaging of the boxes, testing documentation, and import documentation. The most desirable way for SPI to get seed to the end user is by air, but shipping by boat or by personal courier can be more cost effective. Quality travel conditions are of utmost importance. SPI strives to provide the most cost effective method of shipping that will preserve the quality of the seed.
STEP 6: DISTRIBUTION AND OVERSIGHT
SPI delivers seed to humanitarian organizations worldwide where it is distributed by its humanitarian partner organizations to people in need. Family, school and community gardens are planted and are thriving. Seed usually needs to be delivered each year in order to keep these small farming efforts thriving and producing vegetables. SPI provides ongoing support to organizations and farmers around the world. When partners aim to develop local self-sufficiency via seed saving or identifying local/regional sources of quality seeds, we can help.