In 1945, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova (1909-1990), a Czech refugee rescued from war-torn Europe founded the Unitarian Service Committee to help those suffering the aftermath of World War II, especially children. Her compassion struck a chord with Canadians. Thousands answered her call and gave food, clothing and cash to help those in need, making USC Canada one of the very first international development agencies in our country.
Seeds of Survival
In the decades since, the world and its needs changed – and USC Canada responded. Today, our core program is Seeds of Survival (SoS). Working in 11 countries around the globe, SoS supports farmers so they can stay on their land and grow more healthy food for their families and communities. At the same time, our programming aims to preserve the environment and enhance valuable biodiversity, essential to healthy food systems.
Seeds of Survival was born in the wake of civil war and severe droughts in Ethiopia in the 1980s. Facing starvation, farmers were forced to eat the seeds they had saved for planting. This imperilled the thousands of seed varieties in this centre of origin for world food crops.
Ethiopia’s diversity of seed genetic resources was in trouble – and so was its long-term food security.
Working in collaboration with the Ethiopian Gene bank, USC Canada supported a plan to rescue as many precious stores of farmer seeds as possible, multiply them out and give them back to the farmers.
Since these early years, the SoS concept and model has evolved to include farmer led seed banking networks, seed breeding programs, training and knowledge exchanges. Similar programs are now in more than 50 countries, many as a direct result of involvement in an SoS training program.
In 1999, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) awarded Seeds of Survival for its innovative programming in the area of food security.
Regional Community Seed Bank and International Learning Centre, Wollo, Ethiopia opened in 2010 with USC Canada support. It is one of a now established network of community seed banks run by farmers in collaboration with scientists.
SoS is part of a widespread, farmer-led movement for environmentally sound agriculture. With partners in 10 Global South countries, USC Canada supports women, small-scale farmers and young people. In 2013, Seeds of Survival went truly global when USC Canada brought the SOS approach to Canada to support farming communities here at home.