Now let’s imagine somebody would take the seeds away and say “they’re mine!”. Well, that’s what is happening. In the global food system we have today seeds are no longer a free good.
In the good old days, farmers would use some of their harvest to preserve seeds for the next year. They would know exactly which seeds are best to grow in which area and how to plant them, etc. Then, something happened. Something we like to refer to as green revolution. It’s often advertised as the means to feed all people in the world but personally, I don’t see that happen. What I do see happen is that the green revolution means the use of genetically modified seeds, the use of extreme amounts of herbicides and pesticides (= pollution) and the driving out of business of small farmers.
Imagine, a company (let’s call it Monsanto, shall we?) would own the seeds which are grown in the world and peasants and farmers would need to buy their seeds every year. Now, that’s what is happening. You are probably wondering: “How?” The thing is called Intellectual Property Rights. It basically goes like this: Monsanto goes to the patent office and says: “We invented this!” and from then on, nobody else can use that type of seed without asking the company for permission (aka paying).
La Via Campesina, the global movement for peasants explains: “Industry has invented many ways of stealing our seeds in order to manipulate them, mark them with property titles, and thereby force us, the farming peoples of the world, to buy new seeds from them every year, instead of saving and selecting them from our harvest to plant the following year. The industry’s methods include genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and hybrid seeds, which cannot be reproduced by farmers, as well as industrial property over seeds, including patents and plant variety certificates, all of which are imposed through international treaties and national laws.”
The Guardian recently wrote about just this happening in France. “Unrestricted and royalty-free use of seeds may soon be no more than a happy memory. For several decades seeds have been brought under the protection of plant variety certificates, which enshrine plant breeders’ rights.” So far it had been tolerated that farmers kept their own seeds, now a strict control system will change this. “For half the crop species – soy, fruit and vegetables – it is forbidden to use your own seeds, and the other half – cereals and fodder – you have to pay to sow.” The only good news in France: “Small farmers producing less than 92 tonnes of cereal are exempted” from the rule and must not pay royalties.
In Europe, it’s getting worse with the seed control on many levels. TAZ reported recently that a change in EU-patent laws will make it impossible for farmers to create new types of plants or animal-breeds without the consent of the owner of the seeds / breed (again Monsanto or its just as evil counterpart Syngenta). A result is that farmers cannot adapt the seeds to the changing climate aswell as a reduced biodiversity.
It’s really not just the farmers which will suffer from these horrible practices in the name of profit. It’s the exact opposite of what the green revolution was supposed to bring to the world: food for everyone. We are facing a future in which food will be scarse thanks to these practices and the loss of traditions of knowledge of small farmers.
La Via Campesina puts it that way: “In their drive to build monopolies and steal our natural wealth, corporations and the governments who serve them place at risk all of humanity’s food and agriculture. A handful of genetically uniform varieties replace thousands of local varieties, eroding the genetic diversity that sustains our food system. Faced with climate change, diversity is a strength, and uniformity a weakness. Commercial seeds drastically reduce the capacity of humanity to face and adapt to climate change.”
Picture by photofarmer, thank you!