top of page

The Key is in The Seeds

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

Taking the First Steps Towards Ensuring the Restoration of The Planet’s Ecosystems

Located on the edge of the Sumaco-Napo-Galeras biological reserve, in the province of Napo, Ecuador, is Mushullakta, a community of restorers who are embarking on a journey of restoration, conservation and sustainability.

Over many years, as a result of land exploitation, traditions and wisdom of indigenous communities like Mushullakta have ben pushed aside to make way for progress. Kichwa was replaced by Spanish. Learning from and within the community was replaced by traditional education and grades. Oil extracted from the seed of a tree to treat a stomach ache or a rash was replaced by antibiotics and over-the-counter pills. Western dominant culture overshadowed ancient wisdom. Knowledge that had been passed along from generation to generation was forgotten; or so it seemed.

For a moment, just for a moment, Rogelio took a few steps back; to get some distance and observe. To an outsider, there was simply a gathering of people who had brought along different kinds of seeds, some in plastic bags, some in baskets made out of plant fibers, some even in an improvised cradle-like container made of an old long sleeve shirt. To Rogelio, in charge of the seeds workshop that day, something magical was happening.

The workshop attendees sat around an L-shaped table upon which they carefully placed the seeds they had collected. At first, not much was said. Everyone looked at each other and away at the same time, trying hard not to make eye contact. No one ever wants to start these conversations. But someone did. One person shyly grabbed one of the seeds they had brought and started talking. “This is Pambil,” they said. “For years it has been used by our ancestors for our own construction.” And so, a conversation about plants and seeds and ancestors and traditions began. A conversation that for so long had been quieted and hidden was now gathering strength. As more people began to open up, the room filled with foremothers and forefathers, invisibly but desperately whispering their knowledge into the ears of their people who were ready to listen.

In front of them were only some samples of seeds that contain within them a world of possibilities. Because inside each seed there may be a different tree that may last for many years. There may be fruit trees that can feed the community and others. Inside that seed they may find the solution to a headache, a deadly snake bite, a high fever. Inside each seed is valuable genetic information.

We know that restoration and conservation efforts around the world are working against the clock to combat the effects of climate change. How crucial it is to learn to use all our energy in a more efficient way. For this reason, it is important to know as much as we can about the best ways to go about our restoration and conservation efforts.

Recently, Humans for Abundance received a grant from Terraformation, an organization focused on addressing three main bottlenecks to forest restoration: availability of land, water, and seeds. This grant will be directed towards building a nursery in the Mushullakta community to aid in restoration of land and identity, as well as a seed bank, managed and operated by Omar Tello.

You may have heard about Omar Tello, one of our restorers who has dedicated over 30 years to bringing a rainforest back to life from a patch of farmland in the province of Pastaza that was once used for cattle pasture. Walking along his land now, one can see, hear, smell, feel the vibrating life all around. One of his main actions with Humans for Abundance is collecting seeds that will later be processed and germinated. Inadequate seed storage is one of the main problems that lead to failure (Wagner, 2021). With the invaluable knowledge and support from Terraformation, Omar will have access to a seed bank where he will be able to process and store seeds using the tools needed to dessicate, test for viability, freeze, etc.

In order to do this in the most efficient way possible, it is essential, first of all, to know how different types of seeds will react after being collected, which will also affect how and when they are collected. There are two main types of seeds: orthodox and recalcitrant. Knowing how to process each is necessary given their varying reactions. Lowering the temperature and relative humidity can increase seed longevity in storage, but not all seeds handle this the same way.

Orthodox seeds can tolerate desiccation to 15-20% relative humidity and storage at freezing temperatures. Desiccating them will ensure that the cellular structure of the seed is not damaged once temperatures are lowered, therefore decreasing their viability (Conventional seed banking, 2021). The Guayacan tree, present in many legends and stories of the Amazon, possibly belongs to this category. Its seeds may tolerate desiccation and freezing temperatures.

Recalcitrant seeds, on the other hand, cannot tolerate desiccation or cold temperatures which is why they need to be propagated quickly. Therefore, it is important to plan when to collect them in order to use time wisely and prepare the nursery before the seeds are cleaned. Chonta, for example, is a tree that belongs to this category (Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, 2021) and is in danger because inside it lives a whitish worm called Chontacuro, which is advertised as being nutritious and exotic. Its high demand for tourism purposes is causing a drop in its population numbers.

While learning as much as we can about seed behaviour and biomechanics is crucial, the available information is still growing and being updated daily. There are many seeds that have not been classified yet and are awaiting more information. This is why the work being done by our restorers, like Omar, is greatly appreciated because it also provides information for future generations.

Connecting this knowledge with the ancestral knowledge of the people who have inhabited the Amazon rainforest and have interacted with these plants will only enrich the work, and the seeds will once again be more than just the genetic information of a plant but of the people who grow with it.


Conventional seed banking. Center for Plant Conservation. (2021, January 23).

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. (2021) Seed Information Database (SID). Version 7.1. Available from: (September 2021)

Wagner, J. (2021, January 12). The four bottlenecks holding back natural climate solutions. Terraformation Blog.


To learn more about Omar Tello and his journey:

To learn more about Terraformation:

146 views0 comments


bottom of page