Safeguarding diverse landraces of beans in La Araucanía, Chile

By Constanza Monterrubio Solís, 2023 GEN Seed Funding Recipient 

Beans are one of our most staple foods, something we’ve passed down through generations and that still find a place on our tables today with a wide diversity of landraces that have adapted to many different conditions. Despite their importance, our diets are constantly decreasing in diversity, and many places in Latin America (biological centre of origin of beans) are not producing enough legumes to feed their own populations. This is why along with Antonia Barreau, María José Romero, and ten different peasant women from the La Araucanía region of Chile, we started Porotarium Austral in 2020.

Porotarium Austral aims to recover and revalue the diversity of bean landraces within family homegardens of the La Araucanía Region. Its objectives are to preserve seed diversity through conservation, focusing its efforts on strengthening traditional seed-flow systems and promoting bean consumption; while systematizing scientific information about the landrace diversity of the La Araucanía region and highlighting the role of women in protecting agrobiodiversity.

In situ conservation refers to the preservation and protection of biodiversity in its natural habitat. In the context of the Porotarium Austral project, this means that we are working on-farm to safeguard the diverse landraces of beans that are traditionally grown in homegardens in the La Araucanía Region. Preserving seed diversity is crucial for maintaining agricultural biodiversity and promoting food sovereignty. By conserving different landraces of beans, the project can contribute to the conservation of local biocultural heritage, as well as promote sustainable farming practices. It’s worth noting that homegardens are typically small-scale, family-based agricultural systems that integrate food production, biodiversity conservation, and cultural practices, led mostly by women.

Preserving seed diversity is crucial for maintaining agricultural biodiversity and promoting food sovereignty.

We’ve chosen the bean as a conservation flagship due to its remarkable beauty and diversity in terms of sizes, colors, and flavors. Currently, the Porotarium Austral network consists of ten female peasants and five support people between researchers, designers and food enthusiasts who share a common goal of maintaining and propagating this great diversity of bean landraces. We are concentrating our efforts in safeguarding and promoting at least 40 out of the 76 bean landraces present in our seed bank. This collaborative effort between local female peasants, researchers, designers and food lovers showcases the importance of involving different stakeholders in conservation initiatives.

Preserving and propagating bean landraces not only contributes to the conservation of agricultural biodiversity but also enables the continuation of cultural knowledge and practices associated with ancestral crops. Additionally, by promoting these homegarden’s gems, Porotarium Austral aims to educate and raise awareness among the public about the importance of traditional seed diversity conservation and sustainable food systems.

To achieve our goals, Porotarium Austral has already taken several steps during the last couple of years. The project began with active research in the territory for developing a seed bank, which serves as a repository for a wide diversity of bean landraces. Following the establishment of the seed bank, Porotarium Austral distributed five landraces of beans among 12 of the women involved in the project. This distribution allowed each woman to choose the landraces they wanted to care for and cultivate. By involving local female peasants, the project not only empowers them and makes their domestic work visible, but also ensures that traditional knowledge and practices are passed down through generations. In the 2022-2023 season, the chosen landraces were carefully cultivated. This cultivation process involved nurturing the soil, sowing and tending while growing and saving the beans with utmost care, ensuring the preservation of their unique characteristics.

Moving forward, through the assistance of the Global Diversity Foundation and the GEN network, Porotarium Austral aims to participate in seed and knowledge exchanges throughout the year. These exchanges, known locally as Trafkintu (a Mapuche word referring to exchange), facilitate the sharing of seeds and knowledge between different people and communities. This collaboration allows for the enrichment of seed diversity and the exchange of valuable agricultural practices and, very importantly, for strengthening social networks within the territory. To further disseminate knowledge about beans and sustainable agriculture, Porotarium Austral plans to share information through various platforms, including radio programming, posters, digital media and a digital recipe book. These initiatives aim to educate and raise awareness about the importance of family agriculture and overall food diversity through beans as a charismatic crop.

Lastly, the project intends to culminate in a vivid Exhibition called Huerta-Museo Vivo Porotarium Austral. This event will provide an opportunity for visitors to appreciate the unique characteristics of each bean landrace and learn more about the significance of beans, family agriculture and food diversity. The exhibition will serve as a platform to showcase the outcomes of the project, to connect people (very importantly consumers with food producers), and to inspire others to engage in similar conservation efforts.

Porotarium Austral represents a comprehensive approach to preserve and promote bean diversity. From establishing a seed bank to involving local peasants, engaging in knowledge exchanges and organizing educational events, the project aims to make significant strides in conserving beans, supporting family agriculture and fostering a deeper appreciation for food diversity.















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