By Carolyn Smalkowski
This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!
In the last several years, many developing country governments around the world have cut federal agricultural investments within the seed sector. As a result, private seed companies promoting hybrid seeds are filling in the gaps. Farmers’ groups, however, are doing their own community seed saving so they can achieve greater independence, adapt to climate change, and rise out of poverty.
More than half of the world’s commercialized seeds are in the hands of just three companies – Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta. The hybrid seeds these companies promote are bred in a way that future generations of seed are unable to maintain the same qualities of the hybrid seed. As a result, farmers develop a dependency on the seeds and must re-purchase them after each growing cycle if they want production to remain stable. Hybrid crops can require more chemical inputs and water than traditional varieties.
Fortunately, organizations such as Navdanya, La Via Campesina, and ETC Group are advocating on behalf of farmers to promote farmer sovereignty through the development of local seed-saving and sustainable agricultural initiatives. Saving seeds helps contribute to food security by securing the accessibility of safe, nutritious food through community seed banks. These seed banks facilitate greater sharing among farmers and promote greater economic stability.
Community seed saving also supports local adaptive capacity by helping to conserve indigenous knowledge and culture. Farmers are more easily able to adjust to changing weather conditions due to centuries of careful seed selection and breeding. Traditional seeds are thus more genetically diverse and environmentally resilient, which can better prepare communities for an unpredictable and changing climate.
Most importantly, “Seed saving gives farmers life,” according to activist Vandana Shiva. According to Shiva, the increased poverty and indebtedness that results from dependency on seed corporations like Monsanto led to the farmer suicide tragedies in India. Seed saving can empower small farmers to regain sovereignty and independence so they can take control over their own futures and the futures of their families.
Do you know of any community seed saving initiatives? Have you experienced first-hand the consequences of seed commercialization? We welcome your comments below.
To read more about savings seeds, see FAO Seed Distribution and the Biopiracy Controversy, Traditional Food Crops Provide Community Resilience in Face of Climate Change, Kibera’s Vertical Farms, and From Seeds of Suicide to Seeds of Hope: Why Are Indian Farmers Committing Suicide and How Can We Stop This Tragedy?.
Carolyn Smalkowski is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.
To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.