Guadalupe Ortiz

Ashoka Fellow
Polanco, Distrito Federal, Mexico
Fellow Since 2010


This profile was prepared when Guadalupe Ortiz was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
When an organic farming project that Guadalupe was leading with a group of indigenous women in 2003 stalled because no native organic seeds were readily available, Guadalupe was spurred into researching the native seed market in Mexico. To her dismay, she learned that for years native varieties of many fruit and vegetable seeds—such as tomato, eggplant, squash, and lettuce—had begun to fade into extinction as rural families abandoned subsistence agriculture and as Mexico’s industrial farming sector imported ever larger amounts of seeds from abroad. Seeing an opportunity to link the recovery of native seed varieties to the improvement of rural families’ food security, Guadalupe founded Canasta de Semillas in 2004 with the goal of tackling both problems at once. Her strategy is to revive subsistence farming as a food “safety net” for millions of rural Mexicans by involving the families in the production and distribution of organic native seed varieties that are best suited to the diverse climatic and soil conditions throughout Mexico.

While many other citizen organizations (COs) already promote backyard gardens as a small-scale solution to the problem of food security, Guadalupe’s innovative idea is to link those backyard gardens to a new network of community seed banks and regional seed reserves that collect seed samples from individual gardens, reproduce and preserve them, and make them available to even more rural families for use in subsistence farming. The result is a growing domestic supply of organic native seeds that, while ill-suited to large-scale industrial agriculture, perform better under local growing conditions without the use of irrigation, pesticides, or fertilizers. Not only does Guadalupe’s network strategy improve food security for a greater number of families, but it also begins to restore Mexico’s endangered plant biodiversity.

Guadalupe is currently completing three demonstration “nodes”—each of which consists of a regional seed reserve linked to a set of community seed banks and individual backyard gardens—in different parts of Mexico that will serve as models for replication by potential allies like rural development COs or government agencies. Canasta de Semillas has received government financing to have four fully operational nodes by the end of 2010, and within the next five years Guadalupe’s goal is to have one complete node up and running in each of the 31 Mexican states by partnering with local organizations and government entities. Once Canasta de Semillas has accumulated a critical mass of organic seeds from its network of backyard gardens, Guadalupe plans to commercialize the seeds to provide a new revenue stream for rural families. Her ultimate goal is to help establish similar hub-and-spoke networks in other countries, thus creating a Seeds Without Borders that can help bolster rural food security through the international exchange of seeds that have adapted to different regions and climates.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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