Part One: DIVERSITY OF LIFE AND CULTURES UNDER THREAT
Seeds are a gift of nature, of past generations and diverse cultures. As such it is our inherent duty and responsibility to protect them and to pass them on to future generations. Seeds are the first link in the food chain, and the embodiment of biological and cultural diversity, and the repository of lifeʼs future evolution.
Since the onset of the Neolithic Revolution some 10,000 years ago, farmers and communities have worked to improve yield, taste, nutritional and other qualities of seeds. They have expanded and passed on knowledge about health impacts and healing properties of plants as well as about the peculiar growing habits of plants and interaction with other plants and animals, soil and water. Rare initial events of hybridization have boosted larger scale cultivation of certain crops in their Centers of Origin (such as wheat in Mesopotamia, rice in Indochina and India, maize and potato in Central America), which have since spread around the globe.
The free exchange of seed among farmers has been the basis to maintaining biodiversity as well as food security. This exchange is based on cooperation and reciprocity, where farmers generally exchange equal quantities of seed. This freedom goes beyond the mere exchange of seed: it also involves the sharing and exchange of ideas and knowledge, of culture and heritage. This tradition and accumulation of knowledge and know-how on working the seed is gained by farmers actually watching the seed grow in each otherʼs fields. The cultural and religious significance of the plant, its gastronomic values, drought, disease and pest resistance properties, and other values shape the knowledge that the community accords to the seed and the plant it produces.
Today the diversity and future of seed is under threat. Of 80,000 edible plants used for food, only about 150 are being cultivated, and just eight are traded globally. This implies the irreversible disappearance of seed and crop diversity. The erosion of diversity has been propelled by the drive for homogenization in industrial agriculture. The freedom of seed and freedom of farmers are threatened by new property rights and new technologies which are transforming seed from a commons shared by farmers to a commodity under the central monopoly of corporations. Similarly, the rapid extinction of diverse crops and crop varieties and the development of non-renewable seeds such as property hybrids and sterile seeds based on the terminator technology, threaten the very future of seed, and with it the future of farmers and food security.
I. Erosion and extinction of diversity
The acceleration of technological revolutions in all fields and the growing concentration of economic power in the hands of a small number of people and organizations have produced an increasing homogenization of production strategies and of human cultures in our world. As a result the genetic variability of domesticated and wild plants and animals, along with the diversity of languages and cultures, are being destroyed at an unprecedented level.
At the same time, industrial production strategies have unleashed unexpected long-term effects on climate and on the whole network of life systems. This process of ecological destruction and genetic erosion has been accelerating over the past decades.