With great sadness, we bid farewell to Dr. Sue Edwards – an indomitable spirit and founding Director of Ethiopia’s Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD). Sue passed away on 14th February.  

We will sorely miss Sue – it’s hard to believe she is gone. She had such a deep knowledge and passion for biodiversity and for farmers and young people. Her indomitable spirit touched so many lives and she will certainly remain an inspiration to us all.  Our heart goes out to her extended family – so many who Sue and Tewolde brought into their home, as well as their beautiful daughters. (Liz Hosken, Gaia Foundation)

She was a sweet warrior and inspiration for all of us. However, as we say in Brazil:  Sue turned into a star in the sky! (Angela Cordeiro, Brazil)

Sue had lived in Ethiopia for coming on 50 years. As commented by a Kenyan colleague, “She was an African at heart and she was very proud about it”.

Both Sue and her husband, Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, have been long-standing friends and advisors to the Gaia Foundation – both of them passionate about agroecology and the vital role of smallholder farmers.

ISD was founded in 1996, providing a forum on sustainable development, community rights and biosafety. Working in collaboration with Sue, we were privileged to partner ISD on field projects to promote traditional techniques for sustainable agriculture and ‘discovering the value of cultural biodiversity’; and with youth groups and school environment clubs in and around Addis Ababa, helping young people in combating poverty and urban challenges.

Sue was also deeply committed to helping youth – aside from raising a beautiful family and opening her home to so many youngsters! She encouraged ISD’s work on youth for them to gain practical skills such as composting and water harvesting, and to grow vegetables, herbs and spices, and common medicinal plants to take care of the nutritional and basic health needs of themselves, their families and the community – with a strong focus on recuperating and re-valuing cultural knowledge.

If she sees an initiative in her staff or otherwise, she will nurture it and support it. She is always open to other ideas and will do whatever is in her capacity to help you do it. I myself am an example. The cultural biodiversity program was experimented and spread under her support. (Million Belay, formerly ISD, founder of MELCA-Ethiopia and Coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa )

In Ethiopia’s rural areas, Sue worked tirelessly to support smallholder farmers make their land productive, while reviving their traditional knowledge, innovations and practices – helping mitigate climate change and cycling nutrients and carbon back to the soil. A key voice in our 2015 report Celebrating African Rural Women: Custodians of Seed, Food & Traditional Knowledge for Climate Change Resilience, she tells the remarkable story of implementing agro-ecological practices and taking them to scale in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, and the leadership role of women.  The award-winning Tigray Project, a dynamic example of putting ‘seed back in the hands of farmers’, features in Seeds of Freedom and our trilogy of films.

Over her many years in Ethiopia, Sue accrued an enviable knowledge about the vast wealth of crops, wild foods, nutrition, medicinal plants and biodiversity that is on the verge of being lost in Africa; and she shared her knowledge widely. She was a source of inspiration and information for many in the African Biodiversity Network, which she helped establish. A Brazilian colleague who met Sue in the early years of the ABN remembers that “she was always very active and nurtured collective reflections with great motivation and energy”.

We have all passed through her moulding, mentoring. Actually, some of us are what we are because of her. To be honest no enough words can describe Sue. She will remain a huge presence in our midst. (Zachary Makanya, African Biodiversity Network & PELUM-Kenya).

We add our voice to the outpouring of sorrow from farming communities, youth groups, and defenders of ecological and social justice across Africa and beyond – and the determination to keep Sue’s spirit, passion and legacy for indigenous knowledge, food and seed sovereignty across Africa, alive.