Re: Seed storage in wet tropics

It may be that you can't have it both ways.  You described the approach that
uses local materials and technology.  If you want to industrialize the
storage of seed (store larger quantities than appropriate scale for families
and communities) you may need to bring in some of the industrial technology.
 If you find appropriate methods, on the other hand, please let all of us
know!  This is important stuff that you are up to.

Silaca gel, definitely not a local material, and jars that seal, ditto, can
be made to work.  This is moderately low technology but still needs
importation.  This will keep seeds dry, which will kill some species--you
have to experiment or tell people which species you're working with.  It the
species doesn't have a dormant period, it may be best to preserve it as a
plant and not as seed.  You can use fire and/or sun to drive off moisture
when the silaca gel becomes saturated.  You can get silica gel that turns
color when charged with moisture, which is very helpful.

There may be natural materials that do the same thing.

You can also try making urns of the size required, and alternating layers of
wood ash and seed.  You can experiment with this on a small scale, of course.
 Sea salt, which these folks surely make, contains some calcium chloride
which works the same as silaca gel except that it goes into solution if it
gets too wet.  You can toast the sea salt over fire or concentrate solar
energy with a parabolic reflector (importing technological culture but not
necessarily materials) to drive off moisture (otherwise the CaCl2 will be
charged with water) and put a woven bag of this on top of the layers of ash
and seed.  The percentage of CaCl2 compared to NaCl is small, so you need a
few inches to have any effect at all.  Cover with more ashes, and seal with
whatever passes for wax or latex in the ecosystem.  All ecosystems with
vascular plants I've ever visited have latex species.  You also might include
leaves of local plants known to repel insects.

There probably are ways to include neem in such a strategy if you are willing
to import neem.  It may not produce much seed in your climate, but the leaves
are helpful.  Generally, if you can simulate drought stress, you have a good
chance for good seed crops.  There's a guy on the dry side of one of the
Hawaiian Islands that's working with neem at near sealevel conditions.  I've
done some permaculture design work on simulating drought conditions for
neem--we might be able to work something out.

I've observed that seaweeds seem to be deliquesent (suck up moisture).  It
may be worthwhile experimenting with dessicating local seaweeds and seeing if
they do this.

I've got out in the ether a proposal to form a network of tropical
PLANTATIONS, a Tree Bank is the term I coined, though it need not be limited
to trees.  The idea is that we get 20 or so places worldwide that are growing
reserves of species and varieties of useful plants in their area.  Exchange
is free among the cooperators.  If someone gets wiped out by a typhoon or
earthquake or war, everyon pitches in to replace what is lost.  The more
groups involved, the cheaper the insurance.  Regarding propagation and local
distribution of plant materials, that is best left to local culture and
conditions.  This will preserve species and varieties best.  

The time lag shouldn't be too severe.  Emergency food can be lots of
coconuts, which are pretty tough, and root crops, such as sweet potato, less
likely to be destroyed in catastrophe. Root crops that send up edible
vegetation, again e.g. sweet potato, would be particularly useful.

ECHO, Ft. Meyers, Florida USA, has some experience in storage of seeds in the
tropics.  I'll give you their email address: 
ECHO@xc.org .  They have a very  bountiful Web site at http://www.xc.org/echo
, but I do not recall any info on seed storage.  (I just downloaded
everything on it for a project we are involved with in Kenya and there was no
particularly helpful seed storage info.)  You can get Echo Development Notes
on disk and do a word search--probably there are tidbits on it.  You might
also check various tropical seed banks--get our database, TRIP (email for
details), if you don't have a list.

Finally, and I should have said this first, obviously you need to know the
natural history of the plant to get a fix on how best to store its seed.  You
have a shortcut in that you know the locals have already figured out species
that store by dessication, which is why I launched into that area first. 

Best of success in your important work.

For Mother Earth, Dan Hemenway, Yankee Permaculture Publications (since
1982), Elfin Permaculture workshops, lectures, Permaculture Design Courses,
consulting and permaculture designs (since 1981), and The Forest Ecosystem
Food Network.  P.O. Box 2052, Ocala FL 34478-2052 USA.

"We don't have time to rush."


I just found the below in my mail.  It may be useful, though you would
probably need to adapt anything that you learn.

xThe International Postharvest Email List:

This email system is an attempt to make possible rapid communication
of researchers in the general area of postharvest research. 

Uses for the email:
- Job applications
- Announcements of conferences, courses, or whatever might be relevant
to folk 
- General discussion on pertinent topics, including the place of 
postharvest operations in sustainable agriculture and horticulture.  
Non-chemical disinfestation of crops is a strong interest.

What is it:
This is a list  which, when emailed,
automatically sends out your email to all on the list (including

There are currently over 100 people on the list from a wide range of
countries, and its increasing all the time.

How to join (subscribe) to the list:
Email this address:

with these words only in the body of the text:
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You will then receive a welcome message with further details (please
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If you have any questions/inquiries or problems, then feel free to
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I would encourage you to mention this facility to other researchers
who may be interested, both national and international as the more
people we can interact with, the better.

We look forward to hearing from you and hope that this system provides
a useful and stimulating forum for interaction and assistance.

Yours sincerely,

Allan Woolf

Postharvest and Market Access Science groups

Mt Albert Research Center
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New Zealand
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Email: AWoolf@hort.cri.nz