An Heirloom Seed Library is rescuing ancient agricultural knowledge in Palestine’s West Bank, reviving native crops that had all but disappeared.

‘Seeds are magical: seemingly dead but life-giving,’ says Vivien Sansour, an anthropologist and Library founder. ‘For millennia, they have been the gift from which we gain – and regain – our power and political sovereignty.’ By inviting farmers to borrow heirloom seeds – and return them after successful harvests – the Library aims to defend the ‘DNA of cultural heritage’ and save biological diversity.

Palestinian farmers are abandoning old farming traditions based on inter­cropping and crop diversity, resulting in the loss of native seed varieties. ‘They are being forced into a system of mono-cropping that has left them vulnerable to intermediaries who dictate prices and crop varieties,’ Sansour says.

At the same time, Israel has filled local markets with chemical pesticides and genetically modified seeds.

The good news is that Palestine’s ancient agricultural knowledge is still alive. Sansour and her colleagues are finding they can retrieve native seeds from elderly farmers, or old spice shops. In this way, her team has revived fakouz (white cucumbers), jadui watermelons and local pumpkin varieties.

The Library also runs sessions on ecological farming and soil regeneration in communities and plans to create micro seed-libraries in schools.

Giedre Steikunaite