By Lorena Aguilar, IUCN’s Senior Adviser on Gender.

There is a small peasant community in Cuba call La Jocuma, in the Province Pinar del Rio. This community cherishes a very well-kept secret: the invaluable and unique treasure of biodiversity.

Three incredible women: Bestina Mederos, Placida and Basilia Aldaz Cruz, have developed one of the biggest and richest community seed banks in the world. They have more than 286 varieties of beans, 54 of cassava, no less than 100 rice seeds, and 15 different kinds of tomatoes, amongst many others.

When they talk about their bank, you can only stand in awe of their transformative powers – these women are true agents of change.

We know each seed as if they were our own children; we know their strengths and weakness, their tastes, their gifts.

Like walking out into another world, you grow along with the seed bank, every new species brings – literally – a new life.

We are ready to face climate change the best way we can, and this legacy is our gift to current and future generations.

We women are the guardians of biodiversity.

But keeping a bank is usually more hard work than it is romanticism.  Every year, these women have to plant each one of the seeds, harvest them and conserve them. And their farm is 4km away from their homes.

If you were to wonder how much they charge people who want to have access to their rich biodiversity, their answer might take you by surprise:

Nothing, we give them for free. How can you put value to life? This is what our seeds are; they offer life to people through their gifts.  Especially when people have lost all their crops due to unpredictable weather patterns.

This exceptional seed bank has been supported thanks to the gender-responsive efforts of the project Programa de Innovación agropecuaria Local (PIAL) and great visionary women such as Dagmara Plana and Graciela Morales.  This initiative has been possible thanks to the financial support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Find out about IUCN’s work on gender equality and the environment.