Food Crop Biodiversity and Public Access to Seeds

“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 food that grows well in each region of the world has largely been lost already. The 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 and gardeners must have their own seeds or access to open–pollinated varieties that they grow, improve, sell and exchange.

Concentration and consolidation of market power in the seed industry is a tremendous barrier to public access to seeds. The 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.

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. Ceres Trust provides grants to organizations that protect crop biodiversity and ensure public access to seeds.

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Stories from the Field

Student Organic Seed Symposium

Student Organic Seed Symposium
The 2017 Student Organic Seed Symposium brought 24 students from across the US together at the University of California, Davis for four days of learning about organic seed breeding, production, end-uses, politics and more.
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Molokaʻi Taro Variety Field Day

Molokai Taro Field Day
An estimated 220 participants attended the field day which included presentations on taro varieties, historic information and stories connecting taro and sweet potato to Molokaʻi, information on the role of taro in health and economic security for local families.
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Seed Festival

Hawaii Seed Festival
After attending the 2017 Seed Festival, an attendee was enthusiastic in becoming involved in growing adapted seed and was excited we would soon be making it available through the Hawai`i Seed Growers Network and Hawai`i Public Seed Initiative.
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Conserving Breadfruit Diversity

Dan Rudoy, Collection Manager for the Breadfruit Institute, is a specialist in organic, holistic and regenerative farming practices. He is managing the institute’s incomparable conservation collection of 150 breadfruit varieties using regenerative agricultural practices.
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