I never fully comprehended the risks and dangers that farmers went through until I watched the documentary Food, Inc. I can remember the image of a humble older man (Maurice Parr) being interrogated by Monsanto in regard to seed patents. Watching this distraught seed cleaner having his livelihood become threatened made me choked up inside, and it chokes me up to this day.
Observing territorial struggles over seeds seemed disturbing and unfathomable. Maurice Parr represents the farming community, as many have faced issues concerning seed patents. When I think of farmers faced with similar circumstances, I think of the man I saw in the film. I think about the security of livelihoods that have been threatened and years of hard work sabotaged. In the age GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) and food insecurity, seed sovereignty is strongly sought after by many farmers and growers. To a consumer, a seed can be an annoyance, but to a farmer–a seed is a right.
Reasons for Attaining Seed Sovereignty
Farmers and individuals consider seed sovereignty important for the following reasons: To protect seeds from environmental degradation and harmful agricultural practices, to ensure food security and diversity, and to uphold a rich culture of farming traditions that includes protecting native and heirloom varieties. Seed varieties can be endangered by monoculture, climate change, war, catastrophe, and governmental regulations. One primary concern in many seed sovereignty organizations is the pervasiveness of GMOs in the food chain. When a GMO seed inadvertently cross contaminates a farmer’s field by wind or bee pollination, it puts that farmer at risk for lawsuit. According the University of Chicago, seed sovereignty is being threatened with the advent of GMOs. The GMO seed patents are considered by some to be intellectual property.
The Importance of Pollination for Seeds and our Food Source
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a toxic, spore-forming bacterium used in some farms to kill herbivores like Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth larvae). Although this bacteria is used to kill off specific pests, it can also be toxic to beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. Karen W. Wright, UNM PhD candidate in Insect Evolution, states that “A GMO is something that cannot be contained. Once a living organism is released into the environment, it cannot be controlled.” GMOs affect plants such as heirloom corn grown in Mexico. In addition, Karen states that there are only two bee genera (Peponapis) that offer top pollination for the squash family (Cucurbitaceae). Farmers sometimes need to hire hand-pollinators if fields are not property pollinated or to protect certain crop varieties from being cross-pollinated by nearby fields. The use of Bt on farms is an environmental paradox because killing off larvae means killing off some of earth’s most beneficial pollinator insects—bees and butterflies.
Make Way for Monarchs is a progressive organization that advocates for milkweed and monarch restoration in 31 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program.
The implementation of GMO seeds may have initially been well-intended to alleviate hunger or to increase farm yields. Unfortunately, Bt technology and other GMOs have posed dangers to farmers’ livelihoods, contributed to environmental degradation, provided poor food quality, and has affected people’s health around the world.
Seed Savers and Farmers Unite
Protecting the Heritage of New Mexico Native Heirloom
The New Mexico Acequia Association has a beautiful mission. Their mission is to protect native seeds, such as traditional chile, crops, and animals while reviving the culture around aceqiuas in New Mexico. One of their primary purposes is to protect native seeds against Genetic Engineering. In March of 2006, a Seed Sovereignty Declaration was signed.The declaration was drafted by the members of the Traditional Native American Farmers Association and NMAA. These two organizations form the core of the New Mexico Food and Seed Sovereignty Alliance.
Save New Mexico Seeds is a helpful website that exists advocating to protect New Mexico’s native chile seeds against genetic modification and stands to protect the rights of farmers in our land. See what you can do to join locals in upholding a rich cultural heritage-the New Mexico Red and Green.
Seed Sovereignty Advocacy and Conservation
Communities are coming together on a local, national, and global level to take a stand for seed sovereignty. They are realizing that seed sovereignty plays a vital role in food security. A stronger connection to the land and stronger sense of food security can be done through seed sharing and conservation.
Local Advocates and Seed Banks
National and Global Organizations
- Seed Savers Exchange
- Organic Seed Alliance
- Anishinaabe Seed Project
- Grassroots International
- La Via Campesina
- Purchase packaged products labeled with Non-GMO Project verified seals.
- Save your seeds after consuming authentically-grown, organic produce.
- Plant your own small garden using the seeds you saved or heirloom, non-GMO seeds from other sources.
- Support local farms using organic or sustainable agriculture.
- Sign a pledge, join an association or contact your local legislators.
So now we know how important seed sovereignty is for us and what damage a GMO can do to the environment. When you eat something, remember–it all boils down to a tiny little seed. Seed sovereignty is a critical link for maintaining food security. Protecting our seeds means protecting life.
–Posted by Anna