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.
- 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.