Biodiversity is not something that can only be protected and cherished in isolated natural areas. It has to be applied to every area of the world because it comprises the whole inter-related complex of living organisms that sustain people. It applies as much to agricultural food production as to ensuring healthy eco-systems into the future. However since the 1900's, approximately 90% of global food varieties have been lost leading to an enormous reduction in our genetic resource base.
The European Seed Register established in 1980 resulted in thousands of local varieties being lost when it amalgamated each country's seed list. Any variety that did not pass its Distinct-Uniform-Stable (DUS) test could not be registered: The variety must be distinct from any other variety; the plants in a particular variety must be similar to one another (uniform); and a variety is deemed to be stable when its relevant characteristics remain unchanged over two years. Furthermore, registration is costly. Throughout Europe, it is technically illegal to sell seed - except in small quantity - not on the European Seed Register.
When crops have a very narrow genetic base, they succumb more easily to pests and diseases requiring greater use of chemicals to combat them. When genetically-modified (GM) crops are used, private companies own the seeds, the chemicals, and the food processing, thus gaining power over every aspect of our food production and reducing peoples' food security. Many farmers are now at the mercy of large seed-owning companies.
Over thousands of years, farmers and gardeners have developed skills to select and save seeds from plants that grew well in local conditions and tasted good. This is how local varieties - our seed heritage - came into existence giving people power and control over their food production.
Local varieties are seeds that have been tried and tested over several generations to grow well under local conditions. They need less chemical pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers to help them grow unlike modern uniform varieties which often need large inputs of chemical aids. The local varieties contribute to a sustainable farming system.
Seeds that have been tried and tested in local conditions have greater adaptability and durability when it comes to climate change.
The availability of local varieties gives gardeners and small-scale growers greater choice in many ways. For commercial growing and harvesting, produce often needs to be the one size, and to ripen at the same time whereas gardeners and small-scale growers may have other preferences. Whereas taste may be a low priority for large-scale marketing, it is often the most important thing for the gardener.
Seed-saving saves money as gardeners & growers can save hundreds and thousands of seeds from a few plants. These seeds can be shared and swapped.
Learning to save seeds, and then sharing and swapping the seeds locally helps to build community. Those involved acquire a sense of purpose and belonging in the locality. Sharing seed-saving knowledge and skills helps to pass on an important part of local seed heritage to a new generation, strengthening the links between past, present and future.
Learning how to save seeds is a challenge. With hope & anticipation, the gardener can watch the saved seeds grow into plants that produce food. Both selection and growing can give the grower a lot of enjoyment and fun!
Too few people now have the knowledge and skills of seed-saving and selection that were once commonplace among farmers and gardeners. Old agricultural books included how to save seeds. Our crops and plants need to evolve to a rapidly changing environment, and need the skills of people who know how to save seed.
Check out if there is a seed savers association in your region or country, and perhaps you could support it.
- St. Francis