From 18-24 March 2019, we're joining other small-scale seed producers across the UK and Ireland to celebrate #SeedWeek and raise awareness of the benefits of buying locally grown and adapted, organic seed.
Seed Week is coordinated by The Gaia Foundation, who are leading the Seed Sovereignty UK and Ireland programme in partnership with groups including the Soil Association, the Landworkers' Alliance, Irish Seed Savers Association and the Seed Co-operative. The programme aims to increase the diversity of seed being grown on home soil by supporting budding and existing small-scale seed producers.
This week we're also raising awareness of the consolidation of the global seed industry and the grave risk that this poses to global food security. This is something we really care about at the Seed Co-operative, and you should too. Around 90% of our food originates from seed, but the market is largely controlled by just a few corporations.
Before the widespread mechanisation of agriculture following the Second World War, it was common practice for farmers and growers to save their own seed and buy new seed from local producers. But over time these smaller seed companies and their breeding lines have been bought up by large corporations. Legal changes have allowed these corporations to take ownership of and patent genetic plant material, excluding farmers and growers from the knowledge and skills of seed production and leaving them dependent on the agri-business industry. In short, ownership of the food system is shifting to fewer and fewer people, and this has coincided with a huge drop in the diversity of our food and the health of our environment.
We rounded up some of our in-house seed experts to get their views...
"With an abundance of produce in our supermarkets all year round, it’s easy to take our food for granted. But the truth is that it’s largely controlled by just three seed corporations. Only around 1% of the Earth’s edible plant species are currently being cropped, and since 1900, we have lost more than three quarters of the varieties of those species being eaten. For a resilient food system, we need a diversity of crops and seed that is rich in genetic diversity - that means open pollinated seed that can adapt and evolve."
"Although all of our varieties at the Seed Co-operative are derived through organic plant breeding, unfortunately that’s not the case for all organic seed on the market. One of our goals is to improve the range of varieties available to organic growers through our organic plant breeding activities. By enabling natural genetic diversity, organic plant breeding helps varieties develop resilience to climate change and resistance to pests and diseases. For example, we’re currently in the process of breeding a new outdoor, blight-resistant tomato under the guidance of renowned planet breeder Simon Crawford."
"Today’s industrial food system uses hybrid seeds specifically designed for chemically-adapted food growing, which means they are unsuitable for reproducing locally under organic conditions. In order for us to produce and multiply local seeds on our farms, market gardens and home gardens, we need to use open pollinated seed instead. These seeds can be reproduced locally in harmony with our environment - enabling local, ecological food growing that cannot be supported by hybrid seeds."
"Global seed companies aren't interested in local organic varieties grown and maintained in the places they were developed. But that’s exactly what organic growers need - they rely on the natural fertility of the soil and local growing conditions, not artificial fertilisers and chemical sprays. Although not a small task, a seed growers network like the one we manage at the Seed Co-operative has the potential to take back control from global seed companies over what varieties are available. It also gives small-scale growers an additional income and an important role as guardians of a locally-adapted, diverse and resilient food system."