Project Solanum

Last updated / 05.06.2024
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World / Origin Stories / Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute
Published by / User / 05.02.2024
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Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute

Here you can find out more about the world of Project Solanum, how civil society came to be on the brink of collapse and what changes politics, society and nature have undergone from today to 2064.


The Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute was a pioneer in the conservation and promotion of biodiversity and local seed diversity in Ethiopia. The Institute’s vision was to provide smallholder farmers with access to high-quality seeds that were perfectly adapted to the specific conditions and environmental factors of their respective regions. Unlike the multinational agricultural companies, the institute deliberately relied on traditional breeding methods and avoided the use of genetic engineering and bioinformatics.

Through a unique system, the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute gave smallholder farmers free access to seeds. The condition for this was that they returned the same amount of seed to the institute after their harvest. This simple but effective approach promoted a natural mix of seed varieties. The farmers thus became guardians of biodiversity as they helped to maintain the genetic diversity of plants in their region.

Through this continuous mixing, perfectly adapted variants of the different crops developed over time. These plants proved to be resistant to local environmental conditions, be it droughts, diseases or pests. Smallholder farmers were thus able to naturally grow robust seed varieties without having to rely on expensive and patented varieties from agricultural multinationals.

However, in the 2040s, the millennium drought, known as “YD”, had devastating effects across the continent. The extreme drought conditions led to massive crop failures and exacerbated food shortages. This in turn triggered large-scale migration movements as people were forced to leave their home regions in search of survival. The resulting civil wars and conflicts put the entire social fabric and agriculture of Ethiopia to the test.

In the neighboring countries, the militant, trans-African group ALFA (African Land for Africans) began to expropriate the large landowners and establish an independent, border-crossing, communally managed society. This was followed by a fierce military intervention by China, which saw the infrastructure it had built up over decades at risk. ALFA was fragmented into dozens of small cells, which are still fighting to reclaim their lands today.

As a result of these turbulent events, funding sources for the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute and other regional seed offices collapsed. Communication and exchange between smallholder farmers and the Institute became increasingly difficult as political unrest and the plight of the people in the country took priority. In times of need, many farmers were forced to switch to the seed varieties of the agricultural multinationals. Although these were often higher yielding, they were also more susceptible to the extreme conditions of the “YD”. Traditional seed diversity, which had once strengthened rural agriculture and promoted biodiversity, was increasingly pushed into the background.

The Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute is based on a real-world institute and was the life’s work of Hiwot’s mother Manisha. Find out what makes such biodiversity institutes so exciting in this podcast from The Food Chain.

What do you think will be the fate of biodiversity institutes in the future? Which global players do you think threaten food security in the world? Let us know and help us write Project Solanum.

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