The seeds should go back to public ownership, rather than belonging to a small group of agrochemical companies, activists say, after a year in which the exchange and saving of seeds has reached new heights of popularity.
Starting in March, when the pandemic hit the UK, seed producers and seed banks across the country were overwhelmed by demand. Organizations like the Seed Cooperative, Vital Seeds and Irish Seed Savers saw a sharp increase in orders, 600% in some cases.
David Price, managing director of the Seed Cooperative, says this increase in sales could be attributed to new and returning small producers responding to empty grocery shelves and spending more time in green spaces. And commercial producers were also inundated with orders for locally produced organic food.
This, in turn, has drawn attention to the seed saving movement, which has been quietly growing in the UK for some time. Comprised of farmers of all kinds, from farms, small plots, back gardens, and even school playgrounds, these individuals and groups are linked through formal and informal networks. Exchanges can simply mean a friend swapping some tomato seeds for radishes or taking part in bigger events like Seedy Sunday, the UK’s longest and largest seed exchange held in Brighton every February.
Many British consumers feel disconnected from food production processessays Megan Perry of the Sustainable Food Trust. But, argues Helene Schulze, who co-directs the London Freedom Seedbank and also works in the UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty Program, saving seeds allows everyone to participate in the food system. “People yearn for connection,” Price says. “They want connection with other people and connection with the planet, and growing and saving seeds is one way to achieve both.”
Seed savings can also be seen as a means to address the sharp decline in vegetable varieties and the loss of biodiversity. Since the 1900s, we have lost 75% of the genetic diversity in plants globally, according to the US Food and Agriculture Organization, and in the last century, 93% of our unique seed varieties have disappeared. This decrease is related to the increase in industrial agriculture and the great boom in agrochemicals. By reverting to traditional agricultural methods for saving OP seeds, the crops are very diverse, well adapted to the soil and local climate, and more resistant to climate change.
Increased interest has also raised awareness of the idea of seed sovereignty, defined as the producer’s right to grow and exchange diverse, open source seeds that can be saved and are not patented, genetically modified, or owned by one of the companies. four agrochemical companies. that control more than 60% of the world seed trade. “Covid made people really understand how our food system is dominated by a few large corporations, and this has been focused on seed sovereignty,” says Schulze.
The global rise in seed activism is largely due to the intensification of corporate seed enclosures and the loss of agrobiodiversity. according to studies by Karine Peschard, Postdoctoral fellow at the Graduate Institute (IHEID). Many seed savers are motivated by this idea of dismantling the increasing privatization of seeds, explains Peschard, drawing attention to the negative impact of such high levels of concentration. Less than 50 years ago, Most of the world enjoyed food that came from open pollinated (OP) seed varieties, which could be saved for future crops. Much of the seed now sold by large companies is instead GM or F1 hybrid seeds. These cannot be saved for use in subsequent years because they are genetically unstable and protected by seed and patent laws, meaning that most farmers are tied to chains of dependency.
Activists from various organizations, including Open Source Seeds and the Campaign for Seed Sovereignty, are calling for seeds to become common and collective property again. They argue that something as universal as food crops should belong to everyone, not just a small group of agrochemical companies. “If you own the seeds, you own the food system,” says Schulze. “Access to OP seeds is the cornerstone of food citizenship because it creates access to the crop outside of the market. I want every local community or region to have their own seed bank, so everyone knows exactly where to get free seeds. “
And if the level of interest in seeds remains constant, it could change UK food culture, says Peter Brinch, founder of the Open Pollinated Seeds Initiative. “If you’re just shopping off the shelf, you have no idea how far that broccoli you just bought,” he says. “But once you have a packet of seeds in your hands, you have something real and you start asking questions about your food. You challenge supermarkets that require all vegetables to look the same. “
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