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“Open Sesame” Shows the Importance of Seed Saving

The seed saving movement is growing. Communities are banding together to save and share heirloom and open pollination seeds that are in danger of disappearing off the face of the Earth as a result of industrialized agriculture and multinational corporations that control the majority of our seed supply.

The documentary “Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds” by M. Sean Kaminsky seeks to inspire people about the importance of seed saving—and its urgency.

When you save seeds, you’re joining a chain of farmers, gardeners, and seed enthusiasts that dates back to the Stone Age—our civilization literally arose due to seed saving.

Early humans selected the best wild plants with which to feed themselves, and passed those varieties along to others by saving and sharing seeds.

Seeds are the foundation of life, from fruits and vegetables to grain and livestock feed—without them, we have no food. It’s estimated that upwards of 90 percent of our caloric intake directly or indirectly comes from seeds.

Age-old heirloom varieties are disappearing at an alarming rate—90 percent of the crop varieties grown 100 years ago are already gone. The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 plant species are in danger of extinction.

Why Seed Saving Is So Important

Four of the most important reasons to save seeds are the following:

  1. Seed Security: By saving your seeds, you control your seed and therefore your food supply—you aren’t depending on seed stores or catalogs for difficult to find seed. Hundreds of excellent plant varieties have been discontinued as big corporations have consolidated the seed industry and focused on more profitable varieties. Half of the vegetables grown today have no commercial sources—you have to get them through seed trades.4
  2. Regional Adaptation: Most commercially available seed has been selected because it performs fairly well across the entire country if given synthetic fertilizers. But when you save seed from your own best performing plants, on your land and in your own ecosystem, you gradually develop varieties better adapted to your own soil, climate, and growing conditions.
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Anna Swaraj

Mahatma Gandhi’s spinning wheel and Gandhi’s ghani (the indigenous cold press oil mill) are both symbols of swadeshi as economic freedom and economic democracy.

Gandhi inspired everyone in India to start spinning their own cloth in order to break free from the imperial control over the textile industry, which enslaved our farmers to grow cotton and indigo for the mills of Lancashire and Manchester, and dumped industrial clothing on India, destroying the livelihoods of our spinners and weavers. The spinning wheel and khadi became our symbols of freedom.

Gandhi promoted the ghani to create employment for the farmer and processor and to produce healthy, safe and nutritious edible oils for society. What the spinning wheel is to “kapda”, the economy of clothing and textiles, the “ghani” is to “roti”, the economy of food.

Fresh, local and artisanally processed food without chemical additives and industrial processing is recognised as the healthiest alternative. That is why until the 1990s, food processing was reserved for the small-scale and cottage industry sector. The World Trade Organisation rules changed our food and agriculture systems dramatically.

Today we are living in food imperialism. We have become a sick nation due to the rapid spread of industrially processed food and junk food, which are destroying our healthy food traditions.

Keep Reading on Asia Age

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The pulse of life

When pulses are removed from farming systems, synthetic nitrogen fertilisers are used… A recent study has shown that organic farming increased nitrogen content of soil between 44 and 144 per cent.

Pulses are truly the pulse of life: for the soil, for people and the planet. In our farms they give life to the soil by providing nitrogen. This is how ancient cultures enriched their soils. Farming did not begin with the Green Revolution and synthetic nitrogen fertilisers. Whether it is the diversity-based systems of India, or the three sisters planted by the first nations in North America, or the ancient Milpa system of Mexico, beans and pulses were vital to indigenous agro-ecological systems.

As Sir Albert Howard, known as the father of modern agriculture, writes in An Agricultural Testament, comparing agriculture in the West with agriculture in India: “Mixed crops are the rule. In this respect the cultivators of the Orient have followed nature’s method as seen in the primeval forest. Mixed cropping is perhaps most universal when the cereal crop is the main constituent. Crops like millets, wheat, barley and maize are mixed with an appropriate subsidiary pulse, sometimes a species that ripens much later than the cereal. The pigeon pea (cajanus indicus), perhaps the most important leguminous crop of the Gangetic alluvium, is grown either with millets or with maize… Leguminous plants are common. Although it was not until 1888, after a protracted controversy lasting 30 years, that Western science finally accepted as proved the important role played by pulse crops in enriching the soil, centuries of experience had taught the peasants of the east the same lesson.”

The monocultures promoted by the Green Revolution had a direct impact on the decline of pulse production by displacing biodiversity, and with it depleting soil fertility. Mixed cropping was impossible with the intensive use of chemicals of the Green Revolution. With the change from mixed cropping to monocultures, less pulses were planted, production reduced and with the absence of legumes, nitrogen levels in the soil got depleted.

The Green Revolution ensured India produced more rice and wheat, but our pulses have disappeared from the monoculture fields. Between 1960-61 and 2010-2011, acreage under wheat has gone up from 29.58 per cent to 44.5 per cent and rice from 4.79 per cent to 25 per cent. Meanwhile, the area under pulses has dropped from 19 per cent to 0.21 per cent, oilseeds from 3.9 per cent to 0.71 per cent, millets from 11.26 per cent to 0.21 per cent. When measured in terms of nutrition per acre and health per acre, Punjab is actually producing less food and nutrition as a result of the Green Revolution.

Keep Reading on Seed Freedom

Interview: Scientist, Author, Activist Vandana Shiva Leads Movement to Restore Sovereignty to Farmers

Acres U.S.A. is North America’s monthly magazine of ecological agriculture. Each month we conduct an in-depth interview with a thought leader. The following interview appeared in our January 2016 issue and was too important not to share widely.

Americans who visit India often come back more or less overwhelmed by its vast size and complexity, and if they are not stunned into silence they are at least much less willing to engage in generalities. Timeless beauty, explosive economic growth, persistent poverty and about a billion people all make for an intense experience if you’re used to the predictable movements of cars and shoppers. One thing that does emerge from the ancient nation’s recent history, though, is the way societies that seem chaotic and disorganized to outsiders actually offer opportunities for their citizens who are willing to act with boldness, imagination and fierce resolve. Gandhi was one such actor, and Vandana Shiva may well be another. Increasingly well-known here as an author and lecturer, her popularity makes her a pain in the neck to proponents of industrial agriculture. (Corporate ag apologist Michael Specter recently honored her with an attack in The New Yorker.) It’s a whole other story back in India, however — there Shiva is a force for change not only among the commentariat but also on the ground. She agitates for legislation and political change at one end of society while leading a movement to empower farmers at the other. Shiva is that rarity in modern life, an intellectual who sees possibilities for action in the world outside her study and moves to set them in motion, working with fellow sojourners to build and sustain a counterforce opposing the corporate status quo over the long haul. On a recent trip to California, Shiva spoke with Acres U.S.A., covering an amazing amount of ground. Readers who need a little context are advised to consult Wikipedia on the Bhopal disaster — a 9/11-scale tragedy linked to agricultural chemicals — in particular and modern Indian history in general.

Read the Interview on EcoFarmingDaily.com (PDF)

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Trade Deals Criminalise Farmers’ Seeds

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What could be more routine than saving seeds from one season to the next? After all, that is how we grow crops on our farms and in our gardens. Yet from Guatemala to Ghana, from Mozambique to Malaysia, this basic practice is being turned into a criminal offence, so that half a dozen large multinational corporations can turn seeds into private property and make money from them.

But people are fighting back and in several countries popular mobilisations are already forcing governments to put seed privatisation plans on hold.

GRAIN has produced an updated dataset on how so-called free trade agreements are privatising seeds across the world.

Guatemala’s trade agreement with the US obliges it to adhere to the UPOV Convention. But popular resistance forced the government to repeal a national law passed for this purpose. (Photo: Raúl Zamora)

Trade agreements have become a tool of choice for governments, working with corporate lobbies, to push new rules to restrict farmers’ rights to work with seeds. Until some years ago, the most important of these was the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Adopted in 1994, TRIPS was, and still is, the first international treaty to establish global standards for “intellectual property” rights over seeds.1 The goal is to ensure that companies like Monsanto or Syngenta, which spend money on plant breeding and genetic engineering, can control what happens to the seeds they produce by preventing farmers from re-using them – in much the same way as Hollywood or Microsoft try to stop people from copying and sharing films or software by putting legal and technological locks on them.

But seeds are not software. The very notion of “patenting life” is hugely contested. For this reason, the WTO agreement was a kind of global compromise between governments. It says that countries may exclude plants and animals (other than micro-organisms) from their patent laws, but they must provide some form of intellectual property protection over plant varieties, without specifying how to do that.

Keep Reading in GRAIN

Which Future of Food and Farming

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During the last half-century, agriculture and food systems lost their way, in the darkness and fog created by corporations that made chemicals for warfare, through myths and paid propaganda – that poisons and synthetic chemicals are necessary to feed the world. For the industry it was a matter of extending their sources of profits long after the war was over. For the planet and people, the costs have been tragically high. 75% of the earth’s biodiversity, soils, water have been destroyed, the climate has been destabilised, farmers have been uprooted, and instead of nourishing us, industrial food has become the biggest cause of disease and ill health.

For all the destruction it causes, the industrial food system produces only 30% of the food eaten by people. If we travel further down that road, we will have a dead planet and no food.  We can not eat propaganda; We eat soil, we eat water, we eat biodiversity. And when these vital resources are destroyed, our food security is destroyed.

There is, however, another road to food security. The road that was abandoned by research institutes and governments under the influence of giant chemical corporations (now seed and Biotechnology Corporations). This is the road of agroecology .This is the road with small farms, which still produce 70% of the food in spite of a century of a war against small farms. This is the road that rejuvenates our soils, biodiversity and water systems, that stabilises the climate, that produces health and well being . It is not a road less travelled when looked from the perspective that most people in the world are small farmers, that small farms produce most of the food we eat. Small farms also strengthen local economies instead of extracting profits for the few.

It is only less travelled in the dominant paradigm, in the fantasy created by corporations to sell their poisons and patented GMOs. In reality, good farming, which produces good food, is based on the care of the soil and on the intensification of biodiversity and ecological processes. An industrial model of food production is neither efficient nor sustainable. It is not efficient because it uses ten units of inputs – largely fossil fuel based – to produce one single unit of food. This ineffective and inefficient system is destroying ecosystems and the planet, as well as creative, meaningful and dignified work in agriculture. This is why it is not sustainable. It eats into the ecological foundations of agriculture.

Even tough the evidence is clear that ecological farming produces more and better food, using fewer resources, and rejuvenating soil, biodiversity and water in the process, corporate spin doctors continue to fog our thinking about the future of food and farming with new propaganda – “sustainable intensification”, “smart agriculture”, “climate smart agriculture”. This is nothing more than spin, another attempt to hide the failures of their technology and a push to keep agriculture addicted to their toxic, and carcinogenic, chemicals. Dependence on toxic chemicals and GMOs is ecologically and economically non sustainable for the earth and people.

It is ecologically non sustainable because it is destroying soil integrity and soil fertility. Any agriculture system that destroys fertile soils is non sustainable because soil is the foundation of agriculture. Contrary to PR claims, industrial monocultures use more land to produce less food, bad food. They produce nutritionally empty commodities, most of which go to biofuel and animal feed. Only 10% of the corn and soya is used directly as human food. This is not, by any stretch, a food system.It is also economically non-sustainable because it is based on 10 times more costs of inputs- such as chemicals fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, and GMO and nonrenewable seeds – than the returns farmers are getting from what they produce. It is designed to trap farms in debt, remove them from the landand appropriate their assets. And it is not working . A recent example is the failure of 60% of the Bt cotton in Punjab driving 15 farmers to suicide.[1]

Pesticides and GMO Bt Cotton were supposed to control pests. Instead they have created new pest epidemics never seen before. Pesticides and Bt are pest creating technologies, not pest control technologies. The excuse used to push Bt technology was pest control and reduced pesticide use – it has, quite clearly, failed miserably.

Organic farming is the alternative that gets rid of poisons and pests. On our recent Soil Pilgrimage we saw fields of desi organic cotton completely pest free -brimming, instead, with life. The Punjab experience of failure of Bt should help in the transition to an Organic India 2020. And it should stop the insane proposal of putting Bt in straight varieties, which will endanger resilient native varieties by putting the pest creating trait into India’s desi varieties.

Poisons are poisons. And they are not controlling pests. Chemical intensive, external input intensive, capital intensive agriculture is “non sustainable intensification”, not “sustainable intensification”  because it is cannibalising the land and the farmer.

What is being referred to as “Smart Agriculture” and “Climate Smart Agriculture” is designed to make farmers and society dumb by giving up their intelligence, their knowledge, their skills, and then forcing them to buy “data” which becomes yet another external input leading to more dependence on corporations, more control bycorporations, and more failures in agriculture. Data controlled by distant, centralized systems is not the intimate knowledge of the soil, of the biodiversity, of farm animals that an ecological farmer has. After having caused epidemics of food based diseases, the players in the industrial food system are betting on Big data -pushing “Information Obesity”, not knowledge, not intelligence, which are both living, participatory processes. “Climate Smart Agriculture” is actually “Climate Stupid Agriculture”. It is the next hasty step down the road that leads to guaranteed destruction of the earth and society. And the stupidity is evident in Monsanto’s failing fortunes. Beyond a point, spin and bullying cannot sustain a business.[2]

“Climate Smart Agriculture”, and genetically modified crops are based on seeds pirated from third world peasants. As I have written in Soil, not Oil, 40% of the Green House Gas emissions come from an industrialised, globalised model of agriculture. Having contributed to the creation of the climate crisis, corporations who have profited from industrial agriculture are attempting to turn the climate crisis into an opportunity to control stolen climate resilient seeds and climate data, while attempting to criminalise Climate Resilient, Organic Agriculture. Monsanto now owns the world’s biggest climate data corporation and soil data corporation. Armed with proprietary big data, Monsanto intends to profit from the climate crisis which has already claimed thousands of lives. The worse it gets, the better it is for Monsanto; mitigating the crisis would not be profitable to climate deniers like Monsanto.

1500 patents on Climate Resilient crops have been taken by corporations like Monsanto. Navdanya/Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, have published the list in the report “Biopiracy of Climate Resilient Crops: Gene Giants Steal Farmers Innovation”.  With these very broad patents, corporations like Monsanto can prevent access to climate resilient seeds in the aftermath of climate disasters through patents – which grant an exclusive right to produce, distribute, sell the patented product. Climate resilient traits are not created through genetic engineering, they are pirated from seeds farmers have evolved over generations.

For thousands of years farmers, especially women, have evolved and bred seed – freely in partnership with each other and with nature, to further increase the diversity of that which nature has given us and adapt it to the needs of different cultures. Biodiversity and cultural diversity have mutually shaped one another over time.

Along coastal areas, farmers have evolved flood tolerant and salt tolerant varieties of rice – such as “Bhundi”, “Kalambank”, “Lunabakada”, “Sankarchin”, “Nalidhulia”, “Ravana”,”Seulapuni”,”Dhosarakhuda”. After the Orissa Supercyclone Navdanya could distribute 2 trucks of salt tolerant rices to farmersbecause we had conserved them as a commons in our community seed bank.

Every seed is an embodiment of millennia of nature’s evolution and centuries of farmers’ breeding. It is the distilled expression of the intelligence of the earth and intelligence of farming communities. Farmers have bred seeds for diversity, resilience, taste, nutrition, health, and adaption to local agro-ecosystems.  In times of climate change we need the biodiversity of farmers varieties to adapt and evolve. Climate extremes are being experienced through more frequent and intense cyclones which bring salt water to the land. For resilience to cyclones we need salt tolerant varieties, and we need them in the commons.

The Intelligent , responsible road to the future of food and farming is based on the deep awareness that the earth, the farmers, and all people are intelligent beings. And we grow food sustainably through care for the soil and the seed, not through exploitation and privatised profits. If we can look through the degenerate Public Relations Fog, we can find our way to the road that will ensure we rejuvenate the planet, we regenerate the soil, and we ensure the well being of all.

Sources

[1] “Whitefly destroys 2/3rd of Punjab’s cotton crop, 15 farmers commit suicide“, by Subodh Varma & Amit Bhattacharya, October 8 2015

[2] “5 Reasons Monsanto Is Crashing and Burning,” by Eric Blair, October 7, 2015

We care for Life – The Power in Caring – A message from Dr Vandana Shiva

The Global Movement for Seed Freedom invites you to join people and communities around the globe, from the 2nd to the 16th of October to celebrate our seeds, our soils, our land, our territories, and to create an Earth Democracy based on Living Seed, Living Soil, healthy communities and living economies.

We are living in a changing and challenging world.

We clearly have two totally different world orders, two totally different world views, two totally different paradigms evolving.

One is based on ONE Corporation with one paradigm, one agriculture, monopolies, monocultures, crushing the soil, crushing the biodiversity, crushing the small farmers, crushing our bodies with disease. On the other hand we have billions of species, millions of people.

We, the people – cannot fail the Earth, each other and the future.

We believe that in the seed and the soil we find the answers to every one of the crises we face.

The crisis of hunger and disease, the crisis of violence and war; the crisis of the destruction of democracy.

If each of us takes a pledge to protect the Living Seed and protect the Living Soil, to grow our food as close to home as we can, in our balconies, on our terraces, with our farmers closest to us, we can also solve the climate problem, without waiting for governments to come to an agreement.

Join us in an amazing uprising of love and care where we act as one heart, as one mind and one consciousness to say no to this ecocide and genocide that is no longer a theory: it is happening all around us, to every society, in every generation and to every species.

We care for Life and we believe in the power of caring.

We will build living economies, we will become the change we want to see.

With our love: for biodiversity, for the soil, for the Earth, and for fellow human beings. And we’ll draw inspiration, hope and strength from the fact that the will to live is stronger than the will to kill: the power to love is stronger than the power to destroy.

Join us in the revolution of caring for Life

Add your actions to the Seed Freedom Calendar

Bija Swaraj not Bt Raj : The Future is Organic, not GMOs

Farmers, first of all, are breeders. They might not have the lab coats that have come to define modern plant breeding, but their wisdom, knowledge and contribution is unquestionable. To be able to continue breeding, using their own seed,  is their first right, their first freedom and their first duty.

This right has been recognised in India’s Plant Variety Protection and Farmers Rights Act

“39 (iv) a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this Act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this Act”

All seeds bred by the public sector or by private corporations are based on varieties bred by farmers.

For the last 2 decades, Monsanto has forcefully monopolised the cotton seed sector with its Bt Cotton seeds, through illegal, illegitimate and corrupt means. It controls 95% of the cotton seed supply and collects royalties in the form of technology fees even tough it does not have a valid patent – because Monsanto introduced Bt cotton into India illegally, before India changed its patent laws (following a WTO – TRIPS dispute), and when we did amend our patent act we introduced clause 3 (j) clearly defining that biological processes are not inventions.

Keep Reading on Dr. Vandana Shiva’s Website