Think of the seed as the first link of the food chain. If this prime component is compromised, the chain becomes untenable. What’s more, if corporate interests control seeds, we are all subjugated to their agenda at every subsequent link of the chain. In fact, the preponderance of GMO and copyrighted seeds from agribusiness laboratories and mono-cropped fields already determine to a frightening degree the foods we can buy and eat. To counter these billion dollar agro-corporate interests, seed sovereignty activists have sought strength in their greatest resources — their knowledge and collective power.
That knowledge and power were on display at the Agroecology Learning Exchange, coordinated by Grassroots International’s partner, the Popular Peasant Movement (MCP). A leitmotif of the learning exchange was the concept of seed sovereignty. Seed sovereignty is the right of farmers to save, use, exchange, and sell their own seeds. It values biodiversity over commercial interests and market manipulations.
The learning exchange started off with a seminar on Creole Seeds and Biodiversity which drew over 150 participants. A 14-person international contingent was there supported by Grassroots International and our ally, the International Development Exchange, or IDEX. The program consisted of panels, lectures, misticas (cultural ceremonies that engage and ground participants in the common space together), and lots of singing. Topics ranged from movement building to best practices to women’s rights to information on biogas programs.
A highlight of the event was a talk given by Valdir Misnerovicz, a member of the allied group (and Grassroots’ partner) the Landless Workers Movement (MST). In stark terms, he spoke about the two forces at play in the world right now which he called “the project of death” (i.e. the extraction and exploitation inherent to global capitalism) versus “the project of life” (i.e. solidarity, sustainability, support).
Valdir spoke passionately while framing our common struggle for justice. In a real sense, this is a life or death situation:
Our society right now has two distinct projects: one project represents life, the other project represents death. The project of death doesn’t care about people, it only cares about capital; it doesn’t want to produce food, it wants to produce products. It plants monocultures on a large scale because this earns big profits. But the drive to earn more money in less time disrespects nature’s timeline. In the project that represents life, all are important. Children are important, and the elderly are crucial. Peasant farmers don’t produce commodities, they produce food. Peasant farming is the farming of hope.
With Valdir’s words still resonating in their minds, participants set out to further its “project of life.”
After the seminar our international delegation spent a few days visiting the MCP’s creole seeds and agroecology projects. One of our stops was to visit an MCP trial field of creole (or native) bean seeds. This trial field is a core part of MCP’s Creole Seeds Project, which Grassroots supports. The purpose of this trial field is to grow different types of beans and then identify and collect the best beans so that they can be used as seeds for reproduction. This is a key part of their work to rescue, reproduce and distribute creole seeds. The qualities that they look for are plant resiliency, adaptability, taste and appearance.
MCP not only produces bean seeds, but corn and rice as well. We visited one of their seed banks stacked full from floor to ceiling with creole corn seeds. They explained to us that because the area where these seeds are produced is surrounded by industrial farms that use GMO seeds, every year they lose seeds to cross-contamination from neighboring fields. Last year they lost over 20,000 kilograms of seeds because of cross-contamination from GMO fields. But even with that loss they were able to produce more than 270 tons of certified non-GMO creole seeds.
The MCP families that produce the seeds sell them to a government program called the Food Acquisition Program (PAA), which then works with MCP to distribute the seeds to peasant farmers. Through an important component of autonomy, the seeds stay with MCP until they are distributed to the peasant farmers. Participants of the learning exchange were interested and impressed by how MCP was able to work with PAA and maintain control over their seeds throughout the process.
These stories are but a few fibers bound up in a collective fabric of strength and resilience, a pattern in “the project of life.”