Could Crowd-Sourced Organic Seed Banks Save Our Agricultural Future?

Search form

Could Crowd-Sourced Organic Seed Banks Save Our Agricultural Future?

Could Crowd-Sourced Organic Seed Banks Save Our Agricultural Future?
Mon, 12/23/2013 - by Paromita Pain

Fifty-three-year-old farmer Jaswant Sainhara never thought he could be an activist. But in August he was among the thousands of farmers from across 20 Indian states who braved sweltering heat to demonstrate in New Delhi against the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill.

The BRAI Bill ensures that India's government will have all the rights to regulate the research, transport, import, manufacture and use of organisms and products of modern biotechnology. India recently rejected two patent appeals by biotech giant Monsanto, dealing the latest setback to a company that recoups its research investments in large part via its sale of patents.

But the world's largest democracy has to do more to beat back the dangers of GMOs. And India’s organic seed banks might just be the natural weapon required to defeat the GMO beast.

Gift of Seed

The country's first organic seed bank, Navdanya, was set up by the renowned physicist and environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva. Winner of the 1993 Right Livelihood Award, Shiva started Navdanya in 1987 to protect India’s seed diversity and farmers' right to save, breed and exchange seed freely. Navdanya means “nine seeds," symbolizing the protection of biological and cultural diversity. The name also means “new gift.”

The center, headquartered in New Delhi with a biodiversity farm in Dehradun, grows more than 1,500 varieties of seed in organic settings where the seeds adapt to seasonal variations — like lots of rain one season and no rain the next. Navdanya was created to protect farmers in the context of emerging threats like the TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement put forward by the World Trade Organization, which further opened the door to introducing GMOs, patents on seed and the collection of royalties from those patents.

For a country in the grips of biological manipulation by companies like Monsanto, organic seeds are increasingly viewed as a much-needed counterweight. To that end, Navdanya has grown to become a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 17 states in India, providing crucial sanctuaries of biodiversity with 111 community seed banks and operations that have trained over 500,000 farmers in seed sovereignty and sustainable agriculture. It also operates as a collective powered by the people it seeks to serve, promoting a rise in women farming especially.

Shiva says we are living in a moment that demands an “emergency saving of seeds,” as plants become ever more appropriated and colonized by corporations in the form of intellectual property. “Seed is not just the source of life. It is the very foundation of our being,” says Shiva.

Navdanya also has a center called the Bija Vidyapeeth (whose literal meaning is School of Seed) that teaches the importance of biodiversity and organic farming. Since 1991, Navdanya has organized farmers through the Bija Satyagraha Movement to keep farmers in control of their seeds in defiance of laws that make seed a corporate monopoly — and make seed saving and seed sharing a crime.

Seed Activism

In a recent study titled “Seed Freedom: A Global Citizens Report," Shiva’s research showed the ways that genetic contamination is rapidly spreading and, specifically, how India has lost organic cotton seed varieties due to contamination by Bt Cotton. The report also points to other places, like Mexico, facing similar challenges.

“Mexico, the historical cradle of corn, has lost eighty percent of its corn varieties,” according to the report. It is in the face of this global scourge, Shiva hopes, that organic seed banks will help create a different future.

Worldwide, these banks operate on various scales, with distinct forms of operations and funding. SeedSavers.org, for instance, offers an alternative model to biotech-fueled agriculture through “participatory preservation of organic seeds" among its members to ensure the planet maintains a “genetically diverse food supply.” The group, headquartered in Decorah, Iowa, operates one of the largest seed banks in North America where it works with farmers and gardeners to secure heirloom varieties of seeds.

Each year thousands of seed varieties are exchanged among "backyard preservationists" through the group's Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, which helps members find varieties suited to their particular region and source material to use in localized breeding projects. Their preservation methods keep open-pollinated and heirloom seeds circulating among gardeners and farmers, making those varieties available to everyone.

Crowd-sourced Seed Banks

As people send in seeds, these banks are becoming a sort of crowd-soured preservation of seeds that are in the danger of being lost. The Bay Area Seed Interchange Library, located at the Berkeley Ecology Center, is another example. Here, people "check out" seeds, grow them, let some plants sow seed, then return those seeds to the library to share with other gardeners.

Meanwhile, the message in some mainstream media appears to be catching on. As the Daily Mail reported in October, scientists are increasingly joining forces to challenge industry claims that genetically modified food is safe for humans.

As scientists and farmers already know, organic seed banks may be our best investment against bio-piracy and the poisoning of our global food supply. Now, it is up to governments like India, the U.S. and nations around the world to pass laws pushing back against biotech giants like Monsanto to preserve our collective future.

Follow the author Paromita Pain on the Commons or on twitter at @ParoP

 

Article Tabs

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, community bill of rights, Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhoods

Across the country, battles are raging as communities attempt to protect the air, soil and water within their borders and the safety of their residents.

prison divestment campaign, criminal justice reform, Columbia Prison Divest, Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, Dream Defenders, incarceration rates, Student Alliance for Prison Reform

Columbia Prison Divest pressured the university to dump $8 million in Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison company, as well as shares in other behemoths of the private security industry.

Barnesville, Gulfport Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Antero

A tiny town in eastern Ohio is being sued by an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company that bought more than 180 million gallons of water from the town last year.

History shows that liberals need radicals.

American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, BP, climate change denial

Oil company BP said on Monday it has stopped supporting conservative political group ALEC, becoming the latest corporation to end its membership in a group critics say works to deny the existence of climate change.

Until the federal government gets serious about bailing out America’s students and instituting free, public higher education for all who apply, America’s student debtors should refuse to make any further payments.

Posted 4 days 11 hours ago
fracking studies, anti-fracking movement, fracking ban, Real Media, Debt Resistance UK, Anti-Daily Mail week, WailOnline, Blockupy, Occupy Rupert Murdoch

Imagine a world where the 1% doesn't have a monopoly over science and news – but where we can instead think for ourselves.

Posted 5 days 8 hours ago
money in politics, Citizens United, Edward Snowden, kleptocracy, surveillance programs, NSA, whistleblowers

Welcome to 1% Elections, the privatization of the State, a fourth branch of government, and the demobilization of "We the People."

Posted 4 days 10 hours ago
healthcare privatization, National Health Service, Cancer Not for Profit, 38 Degrees

Last week saw the biggest leak in the history of the U.K. National Health Service, with the publication of a document that revealed clinical commissioning groups were looking for a private company to accept a £1.2 billion contract for cancer care.

Posted 3 days 10 hours ago

A report that Rahm Emanuel’s administration invested money from the city teachers’ union in private equity funds run by some of the mayor’s biggest campaign donors is adding fuel to the charges that he neglects all but his wealthy backers.

Posted 4 days 10 hours ago

In this week’s episode of Act Out!, Eleanor talks clowns, burning cars and the riots against austerity in Europe, while looking at the role of art in activism and giving you some tools to get started.

water wars, California drought, water barons, Western Growers, California breadbasket, Primary Water Institute, underground water reserves, underground water regulations, primary water

It’s no longer just the farmers against the ranchers or the urbanites – it’s the people against the new “water barons” like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Monsanto and the Bush family, who are buying up global water at unprecedented pace.

prison divestment campaign, criminal justice reform, Columbia Prison Divest, Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, Dream Defenders, incarceration rates, Student Alliance for Prison Reform

Columbia Prison Divest pressured the university to dump $8 million in Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison company, as well as shares in other behemoths of the private security industry.

Canada, The Intercept, Citizen Lab, Security of Information Act, QUANTUM, Communications Security Establishment

Canada has adopted aggressive tactics to attack, sabotage and infiltrate targeted computer systems.

Sign Up