“Seeds are a gift of nature, of past generations and diverse cultures. As such it is our inherent duty and responsibility to protect them and to pass them on to future generations. Seeds are the first link in the food chain, and the embodiment of biological and cultural diversity, and the repository of life’s future evolution.” –International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture
The genetic diversity of food crops and their wild relatives is the very foundation of food and farming. Truly, it all starts with the seed.
During the past century, there has been a dramatic erosion in the diversity of food crops available to farmers, gardeners and eaters, with an estimated 75% of agricultural crop varieties lost. The work of people over thousands of years to select and improve plants for healthy, tasty food that grows well in each region of the world has largely been lost already. This loss of seeds and genetic diversity is a significant threat to the future food supply, with work urgently needed to conserve and use a diversity of crops, and to ensure that seeds and their genetic material remain in the public trust. In order to continue to grow healthy and safe food, farmers must have their own seeds or access to open–pollinated varieties that they can grow, improve, sell and exchange.
The work to protect crop biodiversity and public access to seeds is twofold: significant efforts must be made in public and participatory preservation of seeds, and to continue to develop new public varieties. At the same time, the laws and policies that facilitate patenting and corporate control of seeds and genetic material must be undone.
Concentration and consolidation of market power in the seed industry is a tremendous barrier to public access to seeds. T he top four firms account for 43% of the global public and proprietary seed market: Monsanto, Dupont/Pioneer, Syngenta and Bayer. Farmers in the U.S. report increasing difficulty accessing non–genetically engineered seeds, for example, as the number of multinational corporations that control seed companies shrinks to a handful, and they determine what seeds are saved, developed and sold.
Resources for more information:
- Manifesto on the Future of Seeds, produced by the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture.
- Out of Hand: Farmers Face the Consequences of a Consolidated Seed Industry, a report that documents the consequences of concentration in the seed industry on U.S. farmers and outlines recommendations to return seeds to public and farmer control.
The Ceres Trust provides grants to organizations that protect crop biodiversity and ensure public access to seeds. Examples of organizations working on these issues include: