Seed saving: Devon Peña, Devinder Sharma and Winin Pereira

Devon Peña, Seattle, sent a link to his long article on March 31st, 2014.

Peña suspects that a handful of global biotechnology corporations and their allies are seeking maximum global control over seed stocks. He observes that large players insist highly centralized depositories managed by scientific experts and funded by global powers offer the safest insurance against scenarios in which vital seed stocks are irreversibly lost. But biodiversity losses already happen in these institutions.

He notes a report by Vandana Shiva and her colleagues that the Fort Collins seed bank is actually more of a “morgue”. Of all the samples collected and tested in 1969 survey, only 28% were viable.

svalberg seed vault

In Svalbard, Norway (above), a mass collection of frozen samples in 2007, is funded by a consortium known as the Global Crop Diversity Trust set up by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations and their private sector biotechnology corporate partners including Monsanto, Syngenta, and Bayer CropScience. The Norwegian operation is officially known as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

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Devon Peña reports on alternatives – strengthened by supporting and protecting the grassroots seed-exchange networks of indigenous and traditional farmers, horticulturalists and other producers of agrobiodiversity. For instance the Vavilov centers, set up by farming communities, protect the habitat and variety of wild relatives of known cultivars; with seed savers and plant breeders they produce an range of crop varieties. Recent court victories against Monsanto’s GMO maize and soybean upheld the sovereignty principle that indigenous people have veto power over any practice or technology that threatens their maize land races inside the Mesoamerican Vavilov Center. Another is Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers which is spread across 16 states in India and has helped set up 54 community seed banks across the country.

Tending smallerIn Tending the Earth, Winin Pereira observes that farmers select for characteristics which will give the best yield under the very specific conditions of their fields. Their repeated collection of such samples over the years give the highest yields possible for the particular ecoreglon, even if conditions change due to climatic variations or other environmental damage. They also exchange, borrow or buy seed from farmers in other areas who have obtained good yields in conditions similar to their own.

Grain banks which mix up seeds from a large number of farmers, destroy the selection for particular farmers’ fields, though they will be preserving it for the region if conditions are fairly uniform. The normal system is also upset when centralised government institutions or even NGOs come into the picture, and the consequences are that unsustainable varieties may be recommended. Even worse than the products of centralised research are those of the commercial seed companies who choose the seed characteristics which offer maximum profits.

seed saver milletDevinder Sharma wrote about the work of Ishwarappa Bankar of Hire Yadachi village of Haveri district in Karnataka, who has created a seed bank of traditional millet strains at his home. Drawing inspiration from Vijay Jardhari of Beej Bachao Andolan in Uttarakhand, Banakar has collected 25 varieties of jowar, 30 of finger millet, 10 of foxtail millet, 5 varieties of little millet and 2 varieties each of kodo millet, proso millet and pearl millet.

He adds some background information from a report in the Daily Pioneer:

”Decades ago, millets formed an important traditional crop. They not only give food security, but also offer multiple securities like fodder and fuel. With the introduction of commercial crops like paddy and wheat, farmers forgot about millets. “I remember my childhood where we depended only on millets for our meals,” recalls Ishwarappa Banakar of Hire Yadachi village of Haveri district. Later on, Ishwarappa, much like other farmers, took to growing commercial crops. Every time there was a drought or a flood, he incurred losses. But last year,he went to Pune and participated in an organic fair. There, he was exposed to varieties of traditional crops and organic farming methods. Vijay Jardhari, a farmer from the Dehradun region was the centre of attraction at the fair, where he exhibited more than 100 varieties of beans and many types of vegetables of his region. Inspired by Jardhari’s efforts on conservation of local seeds, Ishwarappa decided to grow traditional crops. Ishwarappa Banakar has setup a millet seedbank in his home. This is the first millet seed bank set up by an individual farmer in the state”.

Sharma’s verdict
: “This is certainly a remarkable initiative. If other farmers replicate what Banakar has been able to achieve, we would be able to recover quite a lot of the lost plant germplasm”.

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