Valentina Dereani '27, right, will use a $10,000 Projects for Peace award to help build a communi... Valentina Dereani ’27, right, will use a $10,000 Projects for Peace award to help build a community seed bank in Kenya. Dereani's project aims to combat Kenya's shifting landscape of food systems by providing open access to local seed varieties and community knowledge.
Credit: Valentina Dereani

The Projects for Peace program, created by the philanthropist Kathrywn W. Davis, awards $10,000 to student projects from 92 Davis United World College Scholar partner institutions each year that aim to promote peace around the world.

The community seed bank, which will be built in the Luanda Sub-County of Kenya, aims to directly address concerns about the protection of local seeds and agricultural practices. The seed bank will loan a limited number of seeds to registered farmers during the planting season, and will collect seeds from the harvested crop with a small amount of interest that will go towards maintaining the seed bank. The terms and operations of the seed bank will be decided upon by the community and participating farmers, in an assembly led by the project team.

Valentina Dereani '27 is passionate about social justice and food systems, and eager to utili... Valentina Dereani '27 is passionate about social justice and food systems, and eager to utilize her $10,000 Projects for Peace award to make positive change.
Credit: Valentina Dereani

The eight-week project, which Dereani will complete this summer, aims to combat the shifting landscape of food systems in Kenya by providing open access to local seed varieties and community knowledge. Dereani wants to ensure that when a farmer comes to the seed bank, they have the opportunity to access knowledge about seed saving and conservation. Her vision is a seed bank that directly serves the concerns of the community.

“The idea is not just to create a bank of seeds, but a bank of knowledge as well,” Dereani explained. “And in that way, we also allow people to talk with each other. And you have that conversation and transmission of knowledge happening again, but in a community setting.”

One of the major factors driving the need for Dereani’s project is that in 2012, Kenya banned the selling, trading, and sharing of all uncertified seeds. This legislation, which places heavy penalties on those who break the law, has taken a heavy toll on small-scale Kenyan farmers who are increasingly dependent on large corporations for their seeds.

“Such draconian seed laws have paved the way for a neo-colonial capitalistic culture of exploiting farmers to thrive – by encouraging corporate control on seeds and the food system in Kenya,” reported Claire Nasike to Greenpeace International. “These punitive laws will limit the farmers’ ability to grow their desired, nutrient dense, locally available crops leading to a loss in the food diversity from farm to plate.”

Dereani’s project, Mbegu Kwa Jamii, which translated from Swahili means Seeds For The Community, was originally inspired by Dereani’s volunteer experience in Kenya during her gap year. Dereani traveled to Kenya in 2023 to volunteer on a community-run permaculture farm through Service Civil International, an experience that she says helped expand her view of the world.

“I fell in love with the place and the people,” Dereani recalled, “I created a connection with the community in a way that is just unerasable. Kenya is in my mind and in my heart.”

Dereani experienced the changing landscape of agriculture during her time in Kenya where she noticed firsthand the lack of resources facilitating the preservation and exchange of indigenous seeds.

“Farmers are pushed to buy the seeds that are cheaper because they don’t have enough food and they want to grow better crops. “And it seems that the hybrid variety is better than the indigenous one because big corporations have the money to advertise,” Dereani explained.

Valentina Dereani '27 on a trip to Kenya, where she will utilize a $10,000 Projects for Peace... Valentina Dereani '27 on a trip to Kenya, where she will utilize a $10,000 Projects for Peace award to help build a community seed bank.
Credit: Valentina Dereani
Dereani, who was born in Italy and attended the United World College Adriatic in Italy, has seen her education changed and enriched by the experiences of her classmates from around the world, especially as a Davis United World College Scholar at COA.

She first got the idea for her project while in a class during her first term at COA while taking Transforming Food Systems taught by Kourtney K. Collum, the Partridge Chair in Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems at COA, requires that students write a theory of change, a report that outlines a strategy for transforming food justice in a student’s area of interest or expertise.

Dereani, who wrote her theory of change (together with classmates Oliver Mexas and Louis Ricou) on food systems in Kenya, said that it allowed her to connect the reality she experienced while volunteering in Kenya with the academic papers and theories she learned about through class.

“My theory of change allowed me to write about practical things people could do to tackle food access,” Dereani recalled. “And then it got me thinking, what is preventing me from actually doing it? As soon as I saw there was a chance to work with Projects for Peace, I immediately thought it could be an opportunity to do something about it.”

Collum was deeply impressed with Dereani’s passion and tenacity. “Vera has an infectious optimism for a better world and it’s grounded in critical thinking and her 100% commitment to digging in and doing the hard work in solidarity with others. You can’t go wrong with that combination,” she emphasized.

Dereani collaborated with many within and without the COA community while she developed the idea for her project. She worked in close collaboration with experts in Kenya like Josephine Apwoka, the leader of Sunkai Farmers Co-Operative, and Evans Ochuto from the community-based organization Vihiga Nutrition and Community SeedBank (Vihiga CBO). She also connected with Jenna Farinau, a Projects for Peace awardee and COA alumna who coordinated the creation of a community seed bank in Gambia in 2018.

Dereani will be working remotely with scientists from Vihiga over the next three months to assess which indigenous crop varieties are at risk of extinction in the Ekwanda area and could benefit from being saved by the seed bank. The established seed bank will fall under the long-term stewardship of the Sunkai Cooperative.

“I want to provide resources for the people that already have conservation knowledge, so they can do what they know how to do. I just want to be a catalyst for something good to happen,” Dereani said.

During her spring term, Dereani will be conducting an independent study to learn Swahili with several peers who have volunteered to help with the project.