“Only by sharing with others you can see growth.”
Timm Donke, Leif Czakai and Nathan Fordy are collectively known as Optimismus, a commercial and social design collaboration that develops creative strategies and creates collaborations. Working for non-profit organisations they manage to tackle big issues with small-scale but impactful actions. Optimismus were asked by Hivos International to design a project and platform for the Open Source Seeds System program. They came up with a new brand to support sharing systems for seeds as well as promoting biodiversity. We talked with Leif Czakai about OSSS, an upcoming brand of seed snacks - introducing a new taste that aims to become a global snack produced on a local scale and with local ingredients.
Why did Hivos send you to Uganda, and what other countries, if any, have you visited with OSSS so far?
The Open Source Seeds System program already existed before we came up with OSSS snacks. The Hivos East African head office in Nairobi had already begun with OSSS, which is why we decided to go to Kenya first. We then decided to also go to Uganda as we had existing contacts with Slow Food Uganda and farmers’ communities.
The project is not limited to Africa, though—we want to approach it on a global scale. That is why we are planning to have workshops in other continents and are busy with OSSS activities in countries like the Netherlands.
How difficult is it to start a business in the snacking-industry?
It’s not difficult at all, we encourage everyone to do so! Anyone can grow their own food and start processing it in a fast and easy way to produce snacks. Whenever we are travelling for work, we always search for local communities that grow their own food. We set up visits, explain how to easily make a snack-bar and then we just make it – we just start producing snack bars right away. We find our own producers or inspire other people to make some money by supporting their produce through the snacking business.
You produce snack-bars made from seeds and indigenous food, claiming to preserve biodiversity for a brighter future and inspire farmers all over the world to continue growing indigenous crops. How do you do this and why?
Nowadays in the food industry you have to be sustainable for added product value, it is not enough anymore to simply produce something delicious. By producing with indigenous crops, to support their cultivation and the open exchange of their seeds, we begin to develop added value.
Nobody gets a mouthwatering incentive to buy a seed snack bar by looking at an image of dirty farmers hands showing a bunch of boring beans, but unfortunately that is often what you see from the existing market. To reach that crucial audience, the people who don’t really care, who are not conscious, we need to go beyond the existing communication. We don’t think it’s essential to hide what is in the fields but maybe give it a splash of colour, an easy to understand, attractive and contemporary image.
Seed Savers Network Kenya frying corn for a snack-bar mixture
Seed Savers Network Kenya members presenting OSSS snack-bar
Hivos is an organization based on humanist values with a focus on development. Do you see your work as taking place in a capitalist context, or in a developmental aid context?
There is probably no developmental aid context that is not embedded in a capitalist context. We make use of methods from consumption and pop culture and redefine them in ways that bring humanist values into reality.
Would you briefly describe your approach and working process for OSSS, from the moment you arrive in a place to the moment when you are producing and selling snacks?
Before going to a place we identify partners, collaborators and people we want to meet. On location, we design and produce all necessary tools with local craftspeople. Before a workshop takes place, we have an organisational meeting with either the leader of the farmers’ community or with the whole group of farmers. During the workshop we start by explaining the concept and background. Then we teach each other about all indigenous ingredients that farmers brought as material to the workshop. We document everything.
Then we design recipes, produce snacks and organise a tasting. We try to adapt a participatory approach each time differently according to the group and the dynamics. We provide the group with an open source toolkit that can help the community to continue making snacks and selling them. If the group shows interest, more workshops will follow to make things real and to collaborate within the OSSS network. Besides this, more tasks have to be designed in order to bring OSSS to live. For this we continue in collaborations not only with farmers but also other local players.
OSSS operates with an open source ideology, providing all blueprints for recipes, information and tools to its communities, members and customers. What does open source mean to you and why do you practice it?
We believe in diversity within production and an open flow of innovation. If you keep all knowledge to yourself, you act as a break for innovation and development, you begin to stagnate. Only by sharing with others can you see growth. It is like the seeds that we want to support, if you want to keep all the seeds to yourself and prevent other seeds from growing, ok fine, but sooner or later you begin to run into issues. By cultivating monocultures you destroy the growth and diversity of many different food sources.
We make all parts of our system easy for the individual to produce. The same goes for our ingredients, branding and marketing. We share our resources to boost the production of diversity. And you know what’s important here? It’s not only about sharing knowledge but also to show your naiveté and your lack of knowledge! A wise man once said to us: “If you don’t ask you don’t get”. Me for example, I know little about genetic construction of seeds and how to modify them, but I would like to learn. Or about the legal rights around sharing seeds in different countries. Can somebody please explain this to me?
Basically anyone who grows or eats unprocessed foods can become part of OSSS, strengthening global food diversity on a local and also global scale. How is that possible?
We meet communities on a local level and then begin workshops for snack bar production, aiming to do this all over the world. Every location is unique and we make use of the lack of knowledge to explore and discover the production process together. We have no idea how to make a nice snack bar from the local ingredients, so we find out together. Sometimes we try to come up with recipes up front, but usually not knowing stimulates a colourful get-together of ideas from all participants. Everybody knows a little bit about everything and like that we can all move forward. But it’s not only about sharing ideas, people often also start sharing seeds because they happen to be in the same space! In business we call this networking, in agriculture you call it cross-pollination, I guess. And after we’ve created some new snack bars and the workshop is over, we continue sharing the information that we generated during the workshop online to encourage continuation of the project.
Great! Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Yes, snack OSSS and consume diversity.
Text by Leif Czakai & Optimismus
See more of their work on Instagram: @osss_opensourceseedssnacks