Seeds are a gift of nature, as well as a gift from countless generations that have come before us. Our ancestors have saved, modified and cultivated seeds, from all countries and cultures, since the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago.
Seeds and seed saving enabled humans to settle in one place instead of being nomads, and civilisations developed.
Before industrialisation came along, there was a staggeringly huge diversity of seeds in the west. But in the last 100 years, there has been a 94 per cent loss of vintage, open-pollinated fruits and vegetables. This hasn’t happened by accident.
The shrinking of seed diversity, and therefore food choices, is directly attributable to the mega multinational agri-chemical and food corporations that are now bigger than most governments, and way more powerful. And they are intent on owning the world’s food supply. And diversity is not what they’re interested in. One of their tactics is to own all the seed stock around the world.
Today, the diversity and future of seed is under threat. Of 80,000 edible plants used for food, only 150 are being cultivated, and just 8 are traded globally.
In Iraq, when America invaded in 2003, there was an agenda other than getting control of the oil. With the help of the US government and military, the agri-chemical giants went about patenting very old grain seeds, and outlawed seed saving by the country’s farmers. Genetically modifying seeds has been the way these corporations have gone about owning seed. These GM seeds are unable to reproduce, so farmers are forced to buy their seed every year from the corporations. The seed gene bank of Iraq was located in Abu Graib, which was looted and a lot of the seeds were destroyed or lost.
Sanaa Abdul Wahab Al-Sheikh, who worked at the gene bank, hid thousands of the seeds in her refrigerator and underground in her backyard. Thanks to her, a lot of seeds were saved and are back in a rebuilt gene bank, while she travels around the country collecting seeds to add to the bank. She really understood the value of the seeds, and was able to retain an irreplaceable part of Iraqi culture.
Feeding a growing population
We’re being fed lies about how the giant, corporate food growers are more productive, and that it’s the only way to feed a growing population. Both of these claims have been proven to be untrue.
The amount of fossil fuel needed to produce food this way is contributing to climate change, and it’s the people’s tax dollars paying for it, in massive subsidies to these corporations, so they can make a profit – at everyone else’s expense, as they decimate the landscape, soil, forests and their inhabitants in their efforts to control the world’s food supply.
There’s a structure built into a mountain, about 700 miles south of the North Pole, in Svalbard, Norway, called the Doomsday Vault. In a temperature below freezing, millions of seeds collected from all over the world are stored in watertight and airtight foil packages, which are supposed to keep the seeds viable from 50 to 2000 years, depending on the type.
This has been a co-production of the Norwegian government and some private partners, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Monsanto (now owned by Bayer).
The seeds are heirloom, not genetically modified. What are these people anticipating that we don’t know?
A garden is a living gene bank. Organic and small farmers, especially seed savers, are preserving names, stories, heritage, place and cuisine. They are retaining the ‘culture’ in ‘agriculture’, rather than reducing it to mere germplasm. They are actively keeping seeds viable, and acclimated to the area they’re grown in. This is what makes the Svalbard Doomsday Vault a bit ridiculous, because a lot of those seeds may not grow in the possible ‘new climate’ that’s being anticipated, as it may be too extreme; a rude awakening for the sleepy seeds.
Allowing ourselves to be at the mercy of a globalised food system is putting us all in danger of food insecurity. And their chemical reliant methods are destroying our health. Half of the world’s children are ill, and insects and birds are diminishing rapidly due to the use of pesticides.
Here in the Byron Shire there are exciting things going on in the area of seed saving. In an effort to inform people and encourage as many people as possible to start saving seeds from their gardens and small farms, the Mullum Farmers Market (MFM) and the Byron Hinterland Seed Savers (BHSS) are collaborating for the Seed Saver Fortnight.
There is going to be a seed saver get-together at the Mullumbimby Farmers Market on Friday 11 October, from 8.30am – 10.30am, with speakers and seed swapping and giveaways. Maree Bracker is one of the few farmers in the area who saves her own certified organic seed, and she will be one of the speakers: Well worth a listen.
There is also a new website byronseedshare.org created by Paul Crebar and others, with many perennial edible plant seeds, grown by locals, available for free and to swap. And the plan is to keep expanding it. This is one of the many ways we can get our Shire climate change resilient. If we have good, strong, acclimated, local seeds available to everyone, then there will always be food to eat.
And that’s real food security!