Our close observation of the modern food system and its impact on agricultural ecosystems has led us to the frightening conclusion that the annihilation of our agro-biodiversity may be near. Some of the more obvious causes for this are the pollution and degradation of farm land and farm resources through the aggressive industrialisation of agriculture, which bets on small numbers of high-yielding plant varieties boosted by petrochemicals in a regime of monoculture and cash crops.
According to FAO, the intensification of agriculture has led to the disappearance of at least 75% of our edible plant varieties in just the past 100 years. This is a global problem: Mexico is losing its corn varieties, India is losing its rice, Europe has lost most of its traditional wheat varieties.
Unbeknownst to most people, another main contributing factor to the erosion of our crop diversity, is the progressive implementation of international intellectual property and trade agreements and laws that restrict the reproduction and sharing of traditional seeds, serving only the interests of industrial seed multinationals. These conventions protect the “rights” on the seeds developed in laboratories by a handful of seed corporations, while local and farm-saved seeds are subjected to ever more demanding criteria. Since natural seeds are inherently diverse – this being the reason why they have survived and adapted for millennia – they can’t comply with industrial standards such as homogeneity and stability.
>> Tragically, homogeneity and stability was what contributed to the Great Famine in Ireland, which around the 1840’s depended for most of its food on just a few varieties of potato that became susceptible to a blight. <<
It is estimated that around 75% of farmers worldwide still rely on saving their own seeds, an age-old practice. But the global assault by the agrochemical corporations and the powerful governments that back them, on the right to seed, is threatening the right to food itself, as pointed out by a recent study from the Berne Declaration about the impacts of the Plant Variety Protection Convention (UPOV).
The fascination of industry with hygiene, homogeneity, uniformity, simplicity and of course profit, has relegated our natural resources to the realm of artefacts, to be possessed by a few and traded as any other product in highly competitive markets.
But seeds are like life, they need freedom to express themselves, to evolve, to multiply, to adapt. They need to belong to everyone. When well cared for, seeds provide tremendous abundance, supplying us with most of the resources we need for our survival and comfort. But when stifled by rules and profit expectations, seeds lose their best characteristic: their capacity to adapt.